It’s sold in stores across Georgia and used by thousands to treat ailments or induce relaxation, but questions remain about the legality of CBD oil.
CBD is extracted from hemp and contains only trace amounts of THC, the compound that gives marijuana users their high. The federal Farm Bill approved last year removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it is no longer illegal under federal law. And the Georgia General Assembly just passed a bill to permit hemp cultivation in the state.
But, even though CBD is derived from hemp, laws don’t specifically say that it’s OK for individuals to possess CBD oil. And, after years of just saying no, some law enforcement officers and regulatory officials are having trouble saying yes.
In March, a drug task force raided a store in Dade County, in northwest Georgia, seizing items like CBD-infused gummie candy and dog treats.
And restaurants, coffeehouses and bars throughout the state pulled back their CBD-infused items after Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black warned in early May that the use of CBD in food and drinks remains prohibited.
Several people have been arrested recently in other states for possessing CBD oil, which is not intoxicating, including a 69-year-old grandmother who was taken into custody at a Walt Disney World security checkpoint after a guard found CBD oil while searching her purse. A news crew captures the woman being handcuffed. Prosecutors later dropped the drug charge.
Georgia Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Terry Norris said he’s aware of arrests for possession of vials of high-THC marijuana oil and marijuana vaping products. He hasn’t heard of arrests for CBD oil.
“All this really happened so quickly,” Norris said. “We’ve seen a phenomenal increase in advertising for CBD, even before the Legislature was over. It’s going to take a while for the state to implement regulations. We’re going to be dealing with the aftermath.”
Georgia sheriffs are concerned that hemp farming in Georgia, along with another bill that permits cultivation of medical marijuana, will lead to crime and drug abuse, Norris said.
What constitutes CBD oil isn’t defined in Georgia law, and the state Department of Agriculture is responsible for creating rules and regulations for hemp production by mid-July, said Carla Rieffel Bozeman, a spokeswoman for the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.
“Any guidance to law enforcement will come after those rules and regulations have been adopted,” she said.
Officials on the national level, too, are taking steps to create a regulatory framework for CBD.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a hearing Friday to collect information about cannabis compounds, including CBD, which is already available in candy, syrups, oils, drinks, skin patches and dog food.
The hearing was seen as an important step toward clarifying regulation of the products.
“There is mass confusion in the marketplace,” said Peter Matz of the Food Marketing Institute, one of dozens of speakers who addressed the FDA panel.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration recently changed its cannabis policy to allow passengers to travel with some forms of CBD oil and a drug called Epidiolex, approved by the FDA for treating epilepsy in children.
All forms of marijuana had been prohibited in carry-on bags and checked luggage. But, on Sunday, TSA updated its “What Can I bring?” guidelines.
The legality of CBD oil is handled differently depending on state laws, said Emily Leongini, a Washington-based attorney who advises cannabis and hemp companies.
Despite scattered reports of arrests, most states — like Georgia — aren’t cracking down on CBD oil, she said.
“We’ll continue to see a patchwork approach from states in terms of how they regulate it,” said Leongini, who previously worked for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Some states are much more friendly, and their laws are intended to promote the production of hemp and hemp-derived products. Others, not so much.”
Whitt Steineker, a Birmingham, Ala.-based attorney who advises clients on cannabis laws, said many are confused about what CBD is exactly and how it’s different than marijuana. He said hemp can look and smell like marijuana, so it’s understandable law enforcement might not be sure.
Case in point: Bibb County deputies recently investigated businesses selling hemp flower.
Michael Bittick with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit told WGXA-TV authorities were unable to immediately tell if they were looking at marijuana or hemp.
Steineker said he thinks legal clarity will come and will be assisted by new technology that could quickly test and determine the difference between marijuana and CBD.
“It is weird times. And, if it seems like you don’t understand how it all makes sense, it’s because it doesn’t all work together yet, and it’s disjointed,” he said. “I don’t think it’s purposeful or necessarily a result of bad law making. It’s just a function of incrementalism. … I think we are getting closer and closer to a unified policy on the hemp question.”
So what does Steineker say to people who want to use CBD oil?
“I hate to tell people live in fear of police, because most people are not getting arrested for this,” he said. “But they need to be aware of the remote possibility and sometimes episodes like the the Disney grandma are helpful reminders of extreme circumstances. But the reality is many people are legally using CBD every day and not getting arrested.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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