In 2014, President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 (perhaps better known as the “Farm Bill”) into law. Farm Bills are passed about every five years, with the purpose of creating and reauthorizing federal agriculture programs. However, the Farm Bill of 2014 introduced new laws regarding industrial hemp and its legal uses. Section 7607 of the 2014 Farm Bill defines industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana, and authorizes state Departments of Agriculture and educational institutions to conduct research and initiate pilot programs. The Bill specifies that industrial hemp consists of any part of the cannabis sativa plant that possess no more than a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of 0.3%. In other words, industrial hemp is the low THC and therefore non-psychoactive content of the cannabis plant. Though it is derived from the same plant that produces marijuana, industrial hemp has no uses as a recreational drug.
The 2014 Farm Bill’s partial legalization of industrial hemp is incredibly significant, especially when put in context of the history of cannabis laws in the United States. For decades, U.S. federal laws did not differentiate hemp from marijuana or other cannabis plants, and all forms of cannabis were formally banned in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act. Thus, the 2014 Farm Bill drastically transformed hemp’s legal standing and policy in the United States. That said, it is still important to keep in mind that the Farm Bill only permits the cultivation of industrial hemp by institutions of higher education and/or state Departments of Agriculture.
So how does CBD play into this, and what exactly is the relationship between hemp and CBD? Perhaps the best explanation is that cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical compound that is a natural component of industrial hemp. Simply put, any CBD product is derived from hemp.It is important to note that CBD is different than THC and has many beneficial health uses, including anti-inflammatory, cancer-preventive, and stress-relieving properties. However, the legal uses of CBD under the 2014 Farm Bill were unclear. That is, although the 2014 Farm Bill implemented positive changes regarding hemp cultivation, it failed to clarify many important questions. For example, it did not specify what constitutes “research,”how to transport and/or obtain hemp seeds, or if hemp products such as CBD were also authorized.
Considering that CBD is derived from hemp and therefore contains less than 0.3% THC, one would assume that CBD is completely fair to cultivate under the Farm Bill. However, CBD’s legal status was still a grey area as it was not specifically addressed in the bill. Moreover, while many states approved the research of industrial hemp, cannabis remains illegal according to federal law. Thus, the 2014 Farm Bill did not explicitly authorize the creation or use of CBD. However, by authorizing Universities and state Departments of Agriculture to research and cultivate industrial hemp, great progress was made for the hemp industry and public understanding of hemp. Additionally, the bill opened the door for later CBD use and helped destigmatize public perception of cannabis-related products.