Final answer to the question “Is CBD legal?”

U.S. CBD Legality Survey

Today, the growing popularity of CBD in various areas of life, raises the question: “Is CBD legal?”

Rewind the clock of time to a few years ago, having something in your pocket with the content of CBD might have put you at risk of being charged with a felony of drug possession. Now we can easily buy coffee or tea with the addition of CBD in a cafe and take an open stroll along the main street of the city.

Butter, tinctures, chews or chocolates, and even CBD water can be found at any outlet, from gas stations to large supermarkets.

In massage and beauty salons, CBD-based lotions and cosmetics can be offered to you, and in a pet store, you can please your pet with cannabinoid food.

But is everything that we are offered on store shelves and sites a legal and safe product? Are all these products the very CBD we are looking for? Some of us may not think about these issues, but in fact, they are of significant importance – if you buy the wrong product, you risk at least a pointless waste of money (which in itself is unpleasant), and in the worst case, be accused of drug possession.

Let’s figure out what you need to know and consider when buying a CBD in order to get what you want to avoid a waste of money and to avoid unnecessary risks as a consumer.

What is CBD, and what should be distinguished from it?

CBD is one of the natural compounds

Yes, we know that a huge amount of material has already been written about this. And here is the first fact: everyone is talking about CBD. In times past, it was mostly the talk of specialized publications and forums; now, even in the NY Times and Marie Claire have published more than just a few articles about this.

Nevertheless, what CBD is and what needs to be distinguished from it are basic questions, without which understanding everything else will either not be acquired, or will be misunderstood. Moreover, these issues have their own nuances, which, as we have seen, are not taken into account by everyone who writes about this topic.

So, Cannabidiol or CBD is a natural compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant. This plant has long been used by people for various purposes from the treatment of epilepsy to sewing clothes. Such compounds are generally called Cannabinoids. At the moment, we know more than 100 of their species. There are terpenes, also important compounds of Cannabis, which affect the properties of plants and the resulting product. But in our matter, cannabinoids are the most important for us: CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).


THC is very similar to CBD in chemical structure: we can say that these two compounds are twin brothers at the molecular level (C21H30O2), they are distinguished by a pair of chemical bonds.

Both of these substances have psychotropic and therapeutic properties. However, they act differently on the human endocannabinoid system, namely, the CB1 receptor. If you do not delve into the science of the matter, then we can say that THC, as a result of its agonistic effect on the CB1 receptor, affects the human consciousness and causes psychotropic effects (for example, the “high” effect when using marijuana). CBD does not stimulate the CB1 receptor and therefore, does not cause such effects, which makes it safer for people in all respects. Moreover, current research suggests that CBD can reduce the negative effects of using THC, such as anxiety, paranoia, and short-term memory impairment. If the concentration is sufficient, it can prevent the psychotropic effects of THC.

Hemp vs Marijuana

As we must have already understood, the THC and CBD are obtained from the same plant family – Cannabis Sativa. Hemp and marijuana are isolated as two varieties of Cannabis. This division is just from a scientific point of view, in actuality, Hemp and Marijuana are all one and the same plant—Cannabis. CBD can be obtained from both hemp and marijuana, but there is one important difference: in the first case, it is an approved substance, and in the second, it is an illegal substance.

What the law says

Until 2014, both of these cannabis varieties were illegal; their cultivation and trafficking were prohibited under the Controlled Substance Act 1970 (CSA). The CSA until recently did not distinguish between hemp and marijuana – any cannabis was banned for free circulation – it was listed on Schedule I of Controlled Substances.

With the adoption of The Agricultural Act of 2014 (more Commonly-known as Farm Bill 2014) hemp policy has changed a bit.

The Farm Bill 2014 for the first time at the federal level established the difference between hemp and marijuana – industrial hemp has been defined as:

“the Cannabis sativa plant or any part of it that contains Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 per cent on a dry weight basis.” (see sec. 7606)

Higher education institutions and state agricultural departments have the opportunity to grow “industrial hemp” as part of pilot agricultural programs, provided that such cultivation is permitted in accordance with the laws of the state in which the program is implemented.

However, this was a half measure, because hemp continued to remain in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances, which left the Cannabis free of charge and keeping it under the ban and created many ambiguities.

On December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill 2018), which addressed Farm Bill 2014’s gaps and determined that hemp and its products are no longer banned at the federal level.

“The term `hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 per cent on a dry weight basis” (sec. 10113 of Farm Bill 2018)

This document, even before its adoption, caused a lot of noise in public space, like the law on the legalization of hemp.

Farm Bill 2018 has a clear distinction between hemp and marijuana:

  • Hemp, according to the act, is Cannabis sativa L. plants and its derivatives and products containing not more than 0.3% THC. These are not prohibited substances under federal law; they can be purchased, stored and consumed.
  • Marijuana is all of the above, containing more than 0.3%. These are substances prohibited by federal law.

What’s New About Cannabis at Farm Bill 2018?

Much has been said and written about Farm Bill 2018, so we will only briefly dwell on the main points regarding the regulation of hemp and marijuana:

  1. This law defines the definition of hemp as a whole (and not just “industrial hemp” as in Farm Bill 2014);
  2. Cannabis is excluded from the definition of marijuana in the CSA, and THC contained in Cannabis is excluded from Schedule I of Controlled Substances. This indicates that hemp and its derivatives and products are no longer banned;
  3. Any plant or cannabis product containing more than 0.3 per cent THC will be considered marijuana in accordance with federal law;
  4. Hemp, substances and products from it are removed from the control of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). Cannabis at the federal level is transferred under the control of the USDA. Hemp consumer products (including those containing CBD), like any consumer products, are controlled by the FDA;
  5. State laws may impose more stringent restrictions on hemp, up to its complete prohibition;
  6. Cannabis growers must be authorized by the Indian Tribe or licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It depends on who is authorized to regulate and control the hemp production in the state (Indian Tribe): if the state (Indian Tribe) has a state plan developed and approved by the USDA, then these powers belong to the state (the state gives permissions accordingly). In states that do not develop their own regulatory programs, USDA will control hemp production through a federal producer licensing scheme. However, these provisions will only take effect 12 months after the USDA develops the hemp plan and rules stipulated by Farm Bill 2018. Prior to this, the Indian Tribes can act in accordance with their old hemp plans and programs adopted by Farm Bill 2014

Is it real to distinguish hemp from marijuana?

The Internet is stocked with many articles and reviews on the differences between cannabis varieties, and after reading them, you can find that hemp and marijuana

Are so different that you can separate one from the other with the naked eye. For example, such descriptions of plants are often found: marijuana has wide leaves, dense buds, dense vegetation and from afar resembles a short, dense bush, while hemp has thin leaves, the bushes themselves are thinner and taller and from afar more like a branch with leaves on the top.

But the problem here appears to be that there is another point of view, according to which all statements about the possibility of determining the type of Cannabis in appearance, to put it mildly, are erroneous.

In this article, we will not go into discussions about which of these statements are true.

The reality is that the only defining feature that separates the permitted plant (i.e. hemp) from the illegal (i.e. marijuana) is in the concentration of the THC, which we wrote about above. Even what we initially call hemp under certain growing circumstances may ultimately contain more than 0.3% THC and thus be an illegal crop (this can be caused, for example, by pollination, when marijuana can be mixed with hemp; and one study shows that when crossing even two pure hemp plants, most of their offspring may contain THC).

Suffice it to say that drug control departments of several states have repeatedly stopped and arrested cannabis plant lots because they couldn’t determine by outward signs whether this is legal hemp or illegal marijuana. The only way to resolve such issues, according to department staff, is to conduct laboratory analysis using specialized equipment.

So, the use of external signs to distinguish marijuana and hemp is perhaps a controversial method. At the same time, consumers do not need it in ordinary life, because in stores they offer us ready-made products. Therefore, the consumer needs to learn the following main and undeniable differences:

Contains more than 0.3% THCContains less than 0.3% THC
It affects the mind and causes psychotropic effectsExcluded from Schedule I of Controlled Substances according to Farm Bill 2018
Included in Schedule I of Controlled Substances, considered drugDoes not cause psychotropic effects
Sale and possession of marijuana and its products is prohibited at the federal levelSale and storage of hemp and its products with a content of not more than 0.3 are legal at the federal level (with some restrictions).
Federal Regulator: controlled by DEAFederal regulator: regulated and controlled by the USDA (in terms of hemp itself and substances from it) and the FDA (in terms of consumer products from hemp)

Hemp oil: looks like CBD – but not CBD

Bottle dropper with CBD oil

Due to the surge in popularity of CBD, more and more products with green labels and hemp markers are on sale, the oil which, as stated on the package, is contained in these products.

In appearance, these are the same products with CBD (including the same oils, drinks, and chewing candies). Moreover, in search of CBD, you will always come across such products. For example, try to drive “CBD” in the search bar Amazon or Walmart, and you will be offered “Hemp oil”, “Hemp gummies” and other products with hemp oil.

This leads to confusion in the minds of consumers of hemp oil and CBD, although in reality, they are completely different substances:

Hemp oil:CBD:
Made from hemp seedsProduced from various parts of a mature hemp plant, including its stems and flowers.
The creation process is cold-pressed (similar to the creation of other oils, for example, sunflower oil)The creation process — extraction from Cannabis with chemical solvents
Composition: a mixture of nutrients, including protein, polyunsaturated acids, vitamin E, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Contains no CBD or other cannabinoids such as THCHas a high CBD content, may contain THC up to 0.3%
Effect of use: enriches our body with essential nutrients. It has a positive effect on the skin, heart, and helps protect cells from free radicals.Effect of use: regulation of the endocannabinoid system, which is a key regulator in the body and affects almost every physiological system of the body. According to available research and consumer reviews, it has healing and therapeutic properties.
Application: mainly as a substitute for olive and sunflower oil in the kitchen, in the cosmetics industry, for paints, plastics and automotive lubricantsApplication: mainly food, medicine, cosmetics

Thus, hemp oil, like CBD, is obtained from hemp, and it is a legal substance, but in its properties, it is an entirely different product. Hemp oil is also a good product that has beneficial properties. However, if you get it, relying on it for CBD properties – you make a huge mistake of spending money and not getting what you want.

Own quality control: what to consider when choosing and buying a CBD.

So, the first thing to remember is that it should be CBD. Not a harmless hemp oil and not a prohibited drug, namely CBD. Therefore, carefully look at etiquette and read the composition.

Important quality criteria for the CBD

Second, CBD is legal only if it is obtained from a plant that contains no more than 0.3% THC in dry matter (legal hemp). Farm Bill 2018, like Farm Bill 2014 and the existing state plans and programs adopted on its basis, require that hemp be produced on the basis of a license, registration, or other authorization issued by the state Department of Agriculture. At the same time, supervisory authorities should monitor the production of hemp, including periodically conducting control tests of the crop.

Look at the label, in the product documents, or ask the seller where the hemp is made from, from which CBD is obtained. Competent and responsible sellers request from their suppliers a copy of the license registration with the state Department of Agriculture in which hemp is grown or processed. In addition, the quality of the seller and the product is also indicated by the availability of information regarding the batch of the crop from which it was obtained and the identifiers of the batch of its processing.

Third, you need to understand that the final substance itself (CBD oil) or the product we purchase should also contain no more than 0.3% THC. Exceeding this threshold can occur for various reasons, from the banal addition of THC-containing substances to the product to errors in the production of CBD. (extraction of CBD and THC from Cannabis is essentially the same process, so if the manufacturer makes a mistake, the concentration of these two cannabinoids may become undesirable).

In general, it is important to consider how CBD is obtained from hemp; this affects the safety of the product. Various substances, such as carbon dioxide, ethanol or butane, can be used as extractants (solvents) with which CBD is obtained (in some states, only carbon dioxide is allowed to be used as the safest solvent). With proper extraction, all solvents must evaporate from the substance. If the process is disrupted, chemical solvents or pesticides may remain in the substance, which poses a threat to human health. For example, one study showed that more than 80% of the tested cannabinoid substances were contaminated with solvents and pesticides. According to another study published in 2017 by JAMA, more than two-thirds of the tested differed in the content and concentration of CBD and THC from what was claimed on their label (some did not contain CBD at all).

Therefore, before buying, look at the etiquette in the product documents and ask the seller how and by whom the CBD was made and whether its excerpts were tested by an independent licensed laboratory. Such laboratories issue Certificates of Authenticity (“COA”), their presence confirms the legality and safety of the product. These tests and COAs may be required by state law, but in general, this is normal practice for any CBD manufacturer.

Some testing laboratories or non-profit organizations have their own quality marks, which they put on proven products. Such stamps may also speak in favor of the quality of the product. Still, first, you need to make sure that the testing organization is qualified and responsible (at least examine its website and tolerances).

Short CBD Buying Guide:

The legality of CBD Products

If with the legality of hemp and CBD as a substance, everything is clear, then the products and drugs containing it are more complicated. Speaking about products, we mean food products, including for animals, and cosmetics; other products, such as clothing, do not require prior approval.

The fact is that Farm Bill 2018 has not been cancelled, but on the contrary, confirmed the mandatory approval of any new drugs and food additives by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, any drugs and other drugs that claim to have medicinal properties must be approved by the FDA. A different rule applies to food and cosmetics – the products themselves can be released without prior approval, however, food additives must be identified (approved) by the FDA as safe, unless qualified experts recognize the use of this substance as safe (or GRAS—Generally Recognized as Safe).

So far, the FDA has approved only one remedy containing CBD – Epidiolex – a drug against epilepsy. Despite the fact that the safety of CBD in moderate amounts, as well as its medicinal and therapeutic properties, including against serious diseases such as epilepsy, seizures, inflammatory and neuropathic pains, are confirmed by numerous scientific studies (for example, you can read the study) and publications (e.g., Harvard Medical School publication), the FDA is in no hurry to decide on CBD approval for products and medicines, believing that these studies are not enough and asks industry representatives provide more significant and unambiguous information on the characteristics of this substance. In fact, you need to distinguish between the FDA’s position on CBD in medicines and in food:

Thus, drugs and foods that contain CBD are currently formally illegal (except for Epidiolex). This is the official position of the controlling authority, which has been repeatedly voiced officially. In reality, the FDA, apparently understanding the relevance of CBD among people and the lack of objective reasons to oppose its use, does not take serious measures to limit the circulation of CBD products, including not imposing any sanctions on manufacturers and does not resort to withdrawing products from the market. The FDA only sends warning letters, and it should be noted only in relation to those products that, without confirmation, declare medicinal or therapeutic properties.

At the same time, according to the FDA, they are actively looking for ways to fully legalize CBD in the consumer market and ways to properly regulate products with its contents. So, for this, a special commission was created, headed by Dr Amy Abernethy, the Principal Deputy Commissioner of Food and Drugs. In addition, the FDA engages the public in discussions about products and medicines containing Cannabis and substances derived from it by conducting public hearings and collecting comments online. You can learn about the FDA’s CBD promotion and the latest news on this topic on their website or on their twitter page.  

More worrying right now is that all 50 states have banned the sale of CBD products without FDA approval. While these bans are also mostly formal in nature, there are also unpleasant news, such as a statement by the New York Department of Health that they will begin to find sellers for selling CBD products without FDA approval from October 1, 2019. In addition, periodic news of State Drug Control Departments raids into CBD stores, with product seizures and criminal threats to sellers who are convinced of the legality of their actions.

All these events, as well as the availability of low-quality products, are facilitated by the lack of a CBD plan and regulation that the FDA must approve. However, the market continues to operate and grow. And now it’s hard to imagine that people will positively or with understanding accept the complete withdrawal of CBD products from circulation due to the lack of a formal decision for approval, despite all the restrictions.

However, in 2020, it is expected that New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island to legalize adult use. This will put pressure on the federal government to legalize Cannabis at the federal level because enforcement of federal cannabis laws will become impossible.

Key facts about the legality of products and drugs with CBD:

Officially, they are not legal (except for Epidolex), because the FDA has not decided on their approval;

Real measures to limit their turnover, impose sanctions on their manufacturers to date have not been taken;

The FDA is generally positive about CBD and is looking for ways to fully legalize it for the consumer-market;

This year, the FDA approved Elixicure—a pain-relieving drug cream that is non-addictive. It was given the first ever over-the-counter (OTC) approval and certification in the US by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA);

In any case, the consumer is not responsible for the purchase of a CBD product, even if it is not approved by the FDA (in so far as this product is not banned according to CSA).

The popularity of CBD and its attitude in society.

Perhaps the properties and effects of the use of CBD have not yet been fully explored, despite a considerable amount of scientific work on these issues. However, in practice, the demand for it is growing. People use it for a variety of purposes: some talk about the effectiveness to combat various symptoms (for example, pain in muscles and joints, anxiety, tension, insomnia, back pain), others about improving their mental and physical fitness, health, and health when using CBD.

CBD performance in numbers:

Nearly three-quarters of people taking CBD said they were at least moderately effective for the purpose they were acquired for. Moreover, 48 per cent of them said that it was very effective.

22 percent of people who took CBD to combat one of their health problems said that it helped them replace prescription or OTC drugs, with more than a third of them saying they used CBD to replace opioids

(According to a Consumer Reports survey in January 2019)

According to available statistics, every seventh resident of the United States uses CBD today, and every fifth person among people under the age of 30 uses it.

Who uses CBD and how:

  1. Age of consumers:
    • Age 18-29 — 40%
    • Age 30-44 — 32%
    • Age 45-59 — 23%
    • Age 60 upwards — 15%
  2. In what form is CBD used:
    • Edible (CBD-infused food or drink) – 35%
    • Drop of spray – 30%
    • Vaping device – 30%
    • Topical rub or cream – 21%
    • Cigarette/smokable form – 16%
    • Pill or capsule – 15%

(The Gallup Poll Social Series poll)

At the same time, in general, about 40% of people over 21 show interest in CBD. The scale of the CBD industry and its growth speak for themselves. Their estimates vary, but they all talk about significant indicators.

Why do people use CBD:

According to Grand View Research, the global CBD market was valued at $ 1.34 billion in 2018 and was expected to increase by an average of 32.6% over the forecast period to 2025.

According to other estimates, the US market alone reached $ 1.9 billion in 2018, which means double growth compared to 2017, and by 2024, sales are projected at $ 20 billion, which is a combined annual growth of 49 %

Of course, partly all the hype that CBD now accompanies also contributes to this. However, one cannot but admit that such a result could not be achieved if the product were a dummy.  You can find many positive and often enthusiastic reviews about CBD from those who have tried it.

They are increasingly talking about CBD not just as an acceptable, normal phenomenon, but as an important and necessary tool in various activities. For example, more and more athletes, both former and current, openly declare the use of CBD. It is noted that CBD helps to recover faster, which in turn allows you to exercise more, and also improves the general condition, both physical and psychological.

CBD adds popularity to its support from many famous and successful people in their fields, for example:

These are just examples of how people feel about CBD and how they feel about using it. But in reality, you do not need to blindly follow the example of other people, including those who are successful and in demand. However, it makes sense to take their opinion into account and perhaps, first hand, to understand how effective CBD is and whether it is worth your attention.

CBD within walking distance

The prevalence of CBD allows you to purchase it near your home or work without spending a lot of time on it. As we wrote at the beginning, CBD products can be found almost anywhere that sells consumer goods, from cannabis dispensaries, pharmacies and speciality stores to cafes and gas stations.

CBD Shops near you

However, authorized points of sale may vary from state to state, depending on the requirements established in them. This must be taken into account. It is preferable to purchase CBDs at specialized or verified locations that can provide all of the comprehensive product information. For example, CBD is sold at well-known Whole Foods and Lassens health food stores, or at online pharmacies, including Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS, depending on the state.

Online stores

You can order CBD products online through certain brand stores, which often also have offline stores, or at specialized CBD stores, for example, such as HH Outlet. Buying online requires the buyer to wait for the delivery of the goods, but this can be a convenient way for those who prefer to make purchases conditionally “without leaving home” as well as for those who live in states with more stringent CBD rules, where there are difficulties with its purchase in ordinary stores. In general, today, CBD online trading is a fairly well-established process. Even the US Postal Service has publicly confirmed the possibility of sending legal hemp products by mail, so there should be no problems with delivery to the buyer.

However, there are still nuances with acquiring CBD on the Internet, and they are related to payment. There are many large national payment processors (companies that process online transactions from a buyer’s card in favor of the seller), such as Elavon, PayPal or Stripe, refuse to work with the CBD business. And sometimes this turned out to be unpleasant for sellers and buyers – the funds of the companies received for the CBD order were simply frozen by payment operators.

The reason is that despite the legalization of hemp and CBD in Farm Bill 2018, payment processors see the cannabis-related business as “high-risk”, along with areas such as the porn industry and gambling (for example, the Stripe policy).

Another payment provider, Square, previously announced the launch of a pilot CBD seller service program, but according to its comments, it now only works with a limited number of CBD sellers. Therefore, online stores are often forced to cooperate with foreign payment processors, which give them the opportunity to open high-risk trading accounts. Sometimes these are Canadian companies (such as, for example, Shopify), and sometimes organizations from more distant foreign countries, such as China or Russia.

For the CBD industry, this has negative consequences:

Our main recommendation for buying CBD online (in addition to the general checkpoints for buying CBD) is to carefully read the Terms and Conditions (T&C) of the site and its Privacy Policy (PP).

Usually, they can be found at the bottom of the site page or on one of the tabs of the main menu. These documents set out the basic conditions for your interaction with the seller, including the processing of payments, delivery and return of goods (in particular, restrictions on the delivery states), age policy and other requirements for buyers, customer identification, assurances and guarantees provided by the seller, and remedies financial and personal data of the buyer.

If any necessary information is not in T&C or PP, then this is an occasion to think about choosing a site, although you can request information you are interested in through the contact center.

As a conclusion

In this article, we just gave you a guided tour of the CBD world. There are still many questions, interesting and important aspects of this product and its industry. Agreeing with many researchers, we have no doubt in the further development and growth in the popularity of this product. Everything has its pros and cons, and everyone determines for himself whether he needs CBD or not, what it gives him. However, today we have freedom of choice in this matter, and this gives many people the opportunity to use what they need and what benefits them.

On a parting note, we would like to remind you that the needs, capabilities and characteristics of the body are different for different people. There are many CBD products on the market today, varying in composition (including concentration), purpose and form of use. Suffice it to say that there are at least three types of products that differ significantly from each other on the market:

  1. Full-spectrum CBD – “unfiltered” CBD, in addition to CBD, contains other cannabinoids and substances from Cannabis, including THC.   Isolate CBD – pure CBD without any other substances
  2. Isolate CBD – pure CBD without any other substances
  3. Broad CBD is the middle between the first two species. Also, the full-spectrum contains, in addition to CBD, other cannabinoids and substances, with the exception of THC

Given that, as you understand, the CBD market is not too regulated, you need to be careful about choosing a product and choosing what will be useful for your body, taking into account its features. Therefore, we recommend that you also contact your doctor or physician for advice on taking CBD.

Do not forget that the culture of consumption is a separate important part of any industry, which in itself can affect the improvement of product quality and the removal of unscrupulous manufacturers and sellers.

Warning: this material is for reference only. It is not advertising and is not legal advice. To clarify the information, we recommend that you contact the authorized bodies or organizations of your state.