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The law regarding CBD use is a bit confusing. In the United States, it is both illegal and legal. If that sounds impossible and unfair, you are totally right. But, don’t worry, we’ll do our best to clarify it all right here. Now, we assume if you’re reading this that you live in the United States but if you do not, we’ll also discuss the legality of CBD in other countries like Canada, Britain, and in the EU. So, stick around.
CBD Use – Illegal or Legal?
To get right to the heart of the matter, CBD is illegal in the United States at the federal level. As you are probably aware, the federal government has laws that govern the entire Union, yet each state can create their own laws within this framework.
The Supreme Court has spent a lot of the last 150 years clarifying the differences between state and federal law. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of inconsistencies.
The federal government made CBD illegal because it was derived from the cannabis plant. Cannabis has been illegal to varying degrees in the United States since around the 1920s when problems with opium addiction and alcohol dependency were getting increased attention. The politics of the prohibition era are complex and open to interpretation, but there was certainly a racist edge to the legislation. For example, the phrase “cocainized negroes” sums up the intent of some of the legislators at the time, and a lot of commercial and political pressures conspired to make cannabis illegal at both the state and federal level around 1937.
Cannabis, and therefore CBD, have been illegal at the federal level ever since.
Confusion in the Law
The Feds consider marijuana, and everything in it, to have “no accepted therapeutic [or medicinal] value” with a strong potential for abuse. While cannabis certainly does have abuse potential, CBD demonstrably does not. Cannabidiol also has proven medicinal value, which even the federal government affirms.
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of cannabidiol for treating Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, two rare and intractable forms of epilepsy. Anyone over the age of 2 who has these conditions can be legally prescribed CBD by a doctor in the United States.
You have probably by now noticed the inconsistencies here. The federal government says it has no medicinal value and a strong abuse potential. The same federal government’s FDA has approved CBD for medicinal use and concludes it has no abuse potential.
The World Health Organization recently removed CBD from its list of internationally controlled substances, as did the World Anti-Doping Agency.
How Can It Be Illegal and Legal at the Same Time?
This article could quickly become very politicized, so we shall leave the discussion of the reasons for the prohibition of cannabis – which are as inconsistent as they are irrational – for another day. However, the reality of both FDA approval and federal prohibition place users in a difficult situation, and that is before getting to state legality.
So far, the federal government has refused to review its legislation on cannabis. It is something of a political no-no to openly discuss the legality of cannabis. Why? Because it is still seen as a political issue. However, 40 states have now legalized CBD and the rest are moving towards getting it legalized, so the federal government is looking increasingly silly by holding out on prohibition.
2014 Farm Act
According to the 2014 Farm Act, the amount of THC (the psychoactive cousin of CBD) permissible in a hemp plant for sale is up to 0.3 percent. This means that industrial hemp, which has minimal quantities of THC but often high concentrations of CBD, is legal. This act is used to justify the “legality” of the $350 million CBD industry that has been growing in the last few years.
However, just because the hemp plant is legal to grow if it only has trace amounts of THC, does not mean that the purified CBD product is legal. This is still something of a gray area. But any way you look at it, the end result is that possession and distribution of CBD is still a federal crime, with all the penalties that Schedule 1 brings.
Hemp farmers are free to grow hemp, but they cannot sell it. The Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) is very unlikely to prosecute if they do, but it is still remains a possibility. The assumption is that the DEA have “bigger fish to fry.” So, for now, CBD trade is tolerated and the laws are not being enforced, but it is still technically illegal.
Medical marijuana is legal in about 40 states, to varying degrees. This includes CBD. There are some states that only legalize certain forms of medical marijuana for specific conditions. Others are much more relaxed. Of course, where casual cannabis use is legal, so too is CBD.
You are protected under state law if you buy and sell CBD, if the state law does not prohibit medical or casual marijuana products. However, federal law extends to all states, and it is therefore still illegal.
Confused enough yet?
This duality does not seem to have been tested in the courts, presumably because the DEA is not bothering to prosecute people for CBD. In some states, like California and Colorado, which have had legal medical marijuana for some time, CBD is ubiquitous, you can even get it at coffee shops to mix into your morning latte.
The huge increase in use of CBD has meant that effective prohibition cannot succeed, if it ever actually succeeds for any drug at all.
Canada – is CBD legal?
Although Canada has recently legalized the use of cannabis, it has not legalized CBD for general use. It is considered a medicine with dubious medicinal values, or as one put it, “the jury is still out.” Like many medicines, it is illegal to procure, possess, or distribute without a medical prescription or license. Shipping to-and-from Canada remains illegal, although it seems to happen a lot and almost nobody seems to care very much.
Like in the USA, the federal government seems to be turning a blind eye to CBD.
European Law on CBD use?
Europe is a much less integrated union than the United States so the laws vary a little more. Some countries have legalized forms of medical marijuana when prescribed by a doctor, others do not. In the UK, CBD use is legal as long as it is not marketed as a medicine, which would require a marketing license. CBD is still a controlled substance in the UK.
In Germany, however, the 2017 Cannabis act made it legal to prescribe cannabis products and CBD but not to possess it for any other reason. CBD was never covered by the narcotics legislation in the Netherlands, so it is legal there. For Poland, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Spain, (and many others), CBD is legal for varying reasons. Mostly due to the fact that it was never covered by narcotics legislation.
Is CBD Legal where I live?
As you have seen, the laws on CBD use are confused and inconsistent nearly everywhere. It is best to check your local or national government’s policy on CBD and cannabis before you make any purchasing decisions. It is unlikely you would ever be prosecuted but it still remains a possibility, and this site asks you to please not break the law.
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