Hemp's popular non-psychoactive compound CBD would be a legal food ingredient in Washington under a bill introduced Jan. 7 by a state legislator, a move that would cross federal food-safety regulators.
The legislation, sponsored by Republican Rep. Drew MacEwen of Mason County, also runs counter to the Washington State Department of Agriculture's warning to processors to not mix CBD into products to be ingested by humans or animals.
“We still have concerns about allowing CBD in food,” agriculture department spokesman Chris McGann said Tuesday. “A state-led effort to allow food ingredients not allowed by the FDA would be complicated to enforce and put processors and markets at risk.”
The Food and Drug Administration says CBD hasn't been proven safe to consume and that interstate trafficking in CBD-infused food and drinks is illegal. Nevertheless, CBD has fueled a boom in hemp plantings across the country. Popular products include CBD chocolates, gummies and tea.
The FDA has approved CBD for one product: a prescription drug to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. The agency says it continues to evaluate CBD, but has concerns now about its toxicity and adverse effects, including potential liver damage.
A FDA spokesman said the agency doesn't comment on pending legislation.
Industrial Hemp Association of Washington Director Bonny Jo Peterson said the state bill was “useless.”
“It still wouldn't stop the FDA from coming in and saying, ‘Hey, you can't do this,'” she said.
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The Washington Legislature last year passed a hemp-regulation bill, responding to the 2018 Farm Bill, which took hemp off the federally controlled substance list. The bill allows the “whole hemp plant” to be used as food, but also directs the state agriculture department to follow federal law in regulating hemp as a food ingredient.
The Legislature was unwilling to approve CBD in food without the FDA's approval, said Vicki Christophersen, executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association.
“I don't know how much has changed in nine months,” she said. “It would be a pretty dramatic action, I think.”
Efforts to reach MacEwen were unsuccessful.
The FDA sent 22 warning letters to companies in 2019. The companies were marketing CBD as a curative, dietary supplement or an ingredient in food or drink, according to the agency.
The FDA says it's continuing to study CBD and anticipates issuing regulations on making and labeling it.
Christophersen said the current status of CBD-infused food – illegal but available – was “very weird.”
But rather than a patchwork of state rules, the hemp industry needs a national policy from the FDA to ensure CBD is safe and legal, she said. “It's just creating a lot of uncertainty for farmers and manufacturers,” Christophersen said.
CBD provides the biggest potential market for growers. “Fiber and rope and all that is probably not where we're going,” Christophersen said.
The FDA has declared that hemp seeds are safe to consume. According to the FDA, the seeds do not have CBD or TCH, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
MacEwen also introduced a bill Tuesday to allow CBD-infused products to be sold at marijuana stores. Currently, marijuana retailers can only sell cannabis products with at least 0.3% THC.
House Bill 2296 is the legislation to allow CBD in food. House Bill 2300 is the proposal to let marijuana stores sell CBD products.