“C” is for “Confusion” When It Comes to CBD

Krümel Monster Muffins” by Xitu is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The regulatory status of a food ingredient is governed by certain bright line rules.  Any substance that is reasonably expected to become a component of food is a food additive.  A food additive is subject to premarket approval by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) unless the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) among experts qualified by scientific training and experience to evaluate its safety under the conditions of its intended use, or it otherwise satisfies some other exclusion from the food additive definition in section 201(s) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (Act). Any food additive that is intended to have a technical effect in the food is deemed unsafe unless it either conforms to the terms of a regulation prescribing its use or to an exemption for investigational use.  Any food that contains an unsafe food additive is adulterated under section 402(a)(2)(C) of the Act.

However, when it comes to CBD, this regulatory framework gets lost in the minds of many businesses looking to gain a toehold in the marketplace.  In December, I wrote a word of caution regarding the passage of the Farm Bill and its meaning (or lack thereof) for CBD in food and dietary supplements.  The intervening months since the Farm Bill’s passage have proven to be interesting.  Confusion, whether caused by ignorance of the applicable laws and regulations or denial about the limitations of those controlling rules, seems to be the norm when it comes to CBD in food and dietary supplements. 

Whenever I tell an interested manufacturer or distributor that CBD is not an authorized ingredient in either category, I routinely hear familiar protests: “Well, how come I see other products proudly marketing CBD as an ingredient?  What about the Farm Bill – what if the CBD is from hemp?”  The short answer, of course, is that while the FDA has been facing calls to update its regulations in light of the Farm Bill, CBD is still not authorized by any federal law or regulation to be used in food or dietary supplements, which then informs state law and regulations, which are largely modeled on the Act.  The longer answer, though, is because cannabis study has been greatly controlled and stymied by the federal government, because regulators may not understand CBD and how it can be derived, and because the FDA has not begun to meaningfully crack down on CBD products apart from a few Warning Letters pertaining to unsubstantiated CBD claims, policing the market place has fallen upon individual states.  The absence of consistent policing efforts to date, in turn, may give the impression that CBD use in food and dietary supplements is acceptable.   That should not be the takeaway.  As policing efforts are picking up steam, a quick rundown of what is happening in a few nationally influential states might be helpful in clearing up what seems to be so commonly misunderstood:  CBD is not an authorized additive or ingredient in food and dietary supplements.


While a liberal state in many regards, California is following the FDA’s lead.  California Health & Safety Code Section 109935 defines “food.”  Excluded from that definition are products containing cannabis.  Thus, as a threshold step, California is not classifying edibles as food; rather, such products can only be sold at licensed cannabis dispensaries.

Additionally, the California Department of Public Health has squarely addressed whether industrial hemp-derived CBD can be used in food or dietary supplements:


California incorporates federal law regarding food additives, dietary use products, food labeling, and good manufacturing practices for food . . . . Currently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that it is a prohibited act to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or CBD has been added. This is regardless of the source of the CBD – derived from industrial hemp or cannabis.  Therefore, although California currently allows the manufacturing and sales of cannabis products (including edibles), the use of industrial hemp as the source of CBD to be added to food products is prohibited. Until the FDA rules that industrial hemp-derived CBD oil and CBD products can be used as a food or California makes a determination that they are safe to use for human and animal consumption, CBD products are not an approved food, food ingredient, food additive, or dietary supplement.


New York

New York City regulators just took a bite out of the Big Apple’s CBD restaurateurs.  The New York Times recently reported that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confiscated one bakery’s CBD-infused goods, raw ingredients and CBD powder, and it has ordered all restaurants under its jurisdiction not to sell any food products containing CBD.  Although the bakery claimed that there was “a general lack of clarity” around the use of CBD in food, ignorance of the law is what really seems to have resulted in that uncertainty on the part of the bakery.  The regulators, on the other hand, seem clear eyed.


No, no, no.  Well, maybe.  That’s pretty much sums up Texas, which is considering legislation that would establish regulations regarding hemp cultivation.  Even so, Texas (like California) is following the FDA’s lead and it does not allow CBD in any food, dietary supplement or cosmetic.


But – wait!  What about Colorado?!  Well, it is true that the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment does allow use “of all parts of the industrial hemp plant” as a food ingredient “in Colorado.”  However, Colorado is not saying that CBD, in general, can be used as a food additive, nor is it suggesting that its policy is consistent with federal or other state law, and its permissive attitude regarding industrial hemp comes with strict conditions

In order for food to contain industrial hemp, a manufacturer must be able to demonstrate the following:

  • All parts of the hemp plant utilized in food must come from a state that has an established and approved industrial hemp program or a country that inspects or regulates hemp under a food safety program or equivalent criteria to ensure safety for human consumption.
  • The producer/grower must be in good standing and compliance with the governing laws within the state or country of origin.
  • The industrial hemp must conform to the standard of identity established in C.R.S., §35-61-101(7) of no more than three-tenths of one percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
  • The use of other parts of the hemp plant other than seed and its derivatives (seed meal, flour, and oil), must be lab tested to establish that THC levels are not above the allowable limit of THC.
  • The product must be labeled in conformance with state and federal labeling laws, including:
    • clearly identify hemp as an ingredient;
    • clearly identify CBD and the amount of CBD if added as an isolate;
    • include the statement “FDA has not evaluated this product for safety or efficacy” and;
    • not contain any health or benefit claims.
  • The producer must be able to document that the finished product does not contain more than three-tenths of one percent THC.

Colorado’s conditions are thoughtful, particularly as they relate to testing and identification, but they do nothing to insulate a manufacturer or distributor from the policies of other states.  What goes in Colorado does not mean that it will be accepted in other jurisdictions. Indeed, police in Idaho and Oklahoma have started seizing products being transported across state lines that they deem to be cannabis over the protests of the transporters who claim that the products are actually hemp and, thus, protected from such seizure.  But, that is a story for another post…

Given this brief overview of what some states are doing, I hope that everyone will please keep in mind that the Wild West-approach is better suited for movies.  No manufacturer, distributor or retailer should act with impunity or out of ignorance to the legal restrictions surrounding CBD and its use in food or dietary supplements.  While there are many people and organizations working to enact sensible policies, we just are not there yet. Until we are, we need to work within the law in an effort to cultivate the legitimacy necessary for the cannabis industry to thrive and grow.