Is CBD Legal? The Real Truth

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There are mixed messages, contradicting articles and all around confusion on the legal status of CBD. We want to set the record straight. Here is what we know so far on the legality of CBD.

This post will dive into the history of the cannabis plant, the controversy the chemical compound is creating, and the determinant factors (thus far) on CBD’s legal stance to best understand where CBD stands on legal grounds.

In recent years, cannabidiol (CBD) has been making huge waves around the world because of its seemingly credible therapeutic potential and non-psychoactive effects. A multitude of studies has proven CBD can help control a wide range of health conditions so many of us experience every single day including pain, inflammation, acne, anxiety, depression and addiction, as well as other ailments including epilepsy, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Although CBD does not cause mind-altering effects, it has a shaky legal status simply because it is derived from the cannabis plant, which is traditionally considered illegal. However, the recent legalization of industrial hemp (a healthy strain of cannabis) at the federal level has ensued, changing the legal status of the production, sale and use of CBD.

Currently, CBD products derived from industrial hemp containing less than 0.3% THC are legal across the United States, and many parts of the world when sold as a dietary supplement.

Before attempting to explain the legal stance on CBD, it’s important to understand why controversy is being stirred.

Here is an overview of the cannabis-derivative’s properties:

Marijuana and hemp from cannabis have long been regarded as controlled substances, mainly because they are deemed to make users feel “high.” Nonetheless, certain strains of these plants produce little to no psychoactive effects. The culprit for the mind-altering effects of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most abundant cannabinoid on the planet! It causes these effects by binding to CB1 receptors (explained here), which have a direct influence on the brain.

CBD, the second-most prominent cannabinoid in cannabis, does not create a “high” feeling once taken because it does not interact directly with CB1 receptors – Aka no mind-altering influence on the brain. In addition, CBD literally counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC.

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So, marijuana and hemp strains containing a higher CBD:THC ratio are less psychoactive.

That being said, the confusion regarding the legality of CBD stems from the hard fact that it is viewed as a component of the cannabis plant only, instead of being looked at as a chemical compound on its own. Plus, many people mistakenly believe CBD is derived exclusively from marijuana, and are not aware that the vast majority of CBD products on the market are actually derived from industrial hemp, which again, is legal.

Here is a little history on cannabis to better understand the perplexity of CBD as a legal product:

Chronology of CBD-Related Laws

While the conversation on CBD may be new, the legal stance on cannabis has been staggering since the 1950s. Below is a timeline of CBD’s impression from a legal standpoint.

The federal government has been aware of the fact that hemp differs from marijuana (hemp typically contains much higher levels of CBD and much lower levels of THC than marijuana) for over 60 years since it was stated in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that hemp, fiber, stalk, oil and sterilized seeds should not be controlled the way marijuana was. This exclusion was expressed with the intention of regulating marijuana – not interfering with the legitimate industrial hemp industry.

In 2004, hemp products made a big stride toward legal recognition when the U.S. Court of Appeals nullified regulations of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that threatened to ban the production and sale of edible hemp products.

Here’s what happened: The hemp products in question were in fact non-psychoactive, which fit the description of the above-mentioned exclusion in the CSA. This ruling then led to a general perception that companies in the U.S. are legally allowed to import, trade and use hemp (fiber, stalk, oil and seeds). But, it was still illegal back then for farmers to grow hemp plants. This would change a decade later, when President Barack Obama passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which provided a clearer definition of the legality of industrial hemp.

The 2014 Farm Bill states:

  • An institution of higher learning is allowed to grow industrial hemp for research purposes under an agricultural pilot project or other agricultural or academic program, as long as it complies with state laws regarding hemp cultivation.
  • The site used for growing industrial hemp must be registered with or certified by the state’s Department of Agriculture.
  • The state’s Department of Agriculture must be authorized to impose regulation on the activities of the agricultural or academic program.
  • The term “industrial hemp” refers to hemp plants that contain 0.3% or less THC on a dry weight basis

While the new law reduced restrictions on hemp cultivation, it did not apply to the cultivation and use of industrial hemp for non-research purposes.

In order to clear the confusion, the government added a new provision called the Omnibus Law in 2016, which stated that funds authorized by federal law cannot be used to interfere with a state-registered agricultural pilot project during the fiscal year.

According to the 2016 Omnibus Law, federal agencies were not allowed to prohibit the processing, transportation, sale and use of industrial hemp grown. Following the expiration of the 2016 Omnibus Law, Congress passed several resolutions to extend the law.

Industrial hemp received another legal boost in August of 2016 when the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and the DEA all came together to release the “Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp.” According to this, state departments of agriculture and institutions of higher learning may outsource hemp pilot projects to private farmers and businesses. Plus, additionally hemp products may be sold interstate if they are part of a marketing research program.

However, the legal status of hemp took a step back in December of 2016 following the establishment of a new code for marijuana extracts by the DEA. Media reports suggested that the code changes federal law and threatens retail products made from hemp, CBD in particular.

Then again, many industrial hemp experts, legal experts, members of Congress and even spokesmen of the DEA brushed this code off as an administrative or procedural action. Later on, the DEA itself confirmed the code does not fundamentally change CBD’s legal landscape, meaning CBD was fine to use and sell.

Now here we are in the middle of 2018, still waiting on an official say. But, progress is being made as medical professionals and researchers continue to uncover more and more of CBD’s health benefits.

Determining the Legality of CBD

The legal status of industrial hemp, and therefore CBD, has obviously been on a roller-coaster ride. But, it has finally gained federal legality thanks to the wider acceptance of hemp and marijuana in the United States, as well as a greater understanding of its potential health benefits.

Most condensed, easy-to-understand answer: Basically, there are two factors determining the legality of CBD, which we briefly stated at the beginning: source and THC content. As mentioned earlier, the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp plants along with the production of derivative products that contain less than 0.3% THC are considered legal.

Currently, there are 17 states with laws surrounding the use, sale and purchase of legal CBD. These states are: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.


While there are no federal laws that specifically address the legality of CBD, the cannabinoid is legal to be produced, sold and used, so long as it meets the criteria of coming from hemp, and containing less than 0.3% THC. This is evidenced by easy availability of CBD products found online and in specialty retail shops.

If you are planning to incorporate CBD into your daily diet, it is essential that you choose products that are made by trusted manufacturers who adhere to the federal legal requirements. And furthermore, check into your state’s standing on CBD to ensure you are able to take CBD safely and legally.


  • CBD products made from industrial hemp are legal within the U.S. as long as they contain less than 0.3% THC
  • CBD can be produced from cannabis or industrial hemp
  • There are 17 states with laws specifically pertaining to legal CBD
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