An Indiana man was overwhelmed with emotion this week when a county court dismissed his case. Mamadou Ndiaye was facing jail time and a $1,000 fine for marijuana possession. But Ndiaye possessed only Cannabis oil – a substance that was legalized by the state legislature last month. Thanks to the new CBD law, the prosecutor and judge both decided to dismiss the case.
“This is the best day of my life,” he told WTHR, which has been reporting on Ndiaye’s case and the confusion surrounding CBD laws in Indiana.
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a compound found in cannabis that has gained prominence in recent years for its therapeutic properties. Cannabis advocates have hailed the cannabinoid for its promise in combating seizures, anxiety and myriad other ailments. CBD is “the new ‘it’ drug,” according to The Washington Post. It’s a “rapidly rising star for its capacity to deliver mental and physical benefits,” according to Quartz.
But contrary to what these articles suggest, CBD products are not “legal in all 50 US states.” If that were the case, why would Ndiaye be charged with a crime? Why would the Indiana police raid retailersselling the stuff? And why would the Indiana legislature take it upon itself to legalize CBD?
Many in the cannabis industry claim that as long as the CBD product contains less than 0.3% THC, it is classified as hemp under federal law and is therefore legal to possess and distribute. (WTHR commissioned a lab test for Ndiaye’s CBD oil — it had 0.00% THC.)
The 2014 Farm Bill is often cited as evidence that CBD derived from industrial hemp is now legal. But the legislation legalized only a very narrow set of hemp cultivation activities: It is legal to grow hemp under a state pilot program or for academic research. It is also legal to cultivate under state law “in which such institution of higher education or state department of agriculture is located and such research occurs.”
There are certainly CBD producers who source their hemp from cultivators that operate under the Farm Bill. But given how widespread these products are, it’s unlikely that all of them were sourced from research hemp. And state laws on CBD and hemp vary widely. Colorado, which legalized adult-use marijuana in 2012, has a robust industrial hemp program and is home to the first U.S.-bred certified hemp seed. But in Massachusetts, where you can now grow marijuana at home, it’s still a crime to grow hemp without a state license, reported The Boston Globe.
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell announced last month that he would introduce a bill to legalize hemp on the federal level.
Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that CBD is definitely still illegal. Last November, a spokesperson for the agency explained to WTHR that those who violate federal drug laws still run the “risk of arrest and prosecution.” But he also said that the DEA is not going after individuals who have benefited from CBD oil.
”It would not be an appropriate use of federal resources to go after a mother because her child has epileptic seizures and has found something that can help and has helped. Are they breaking the law? Yes, they are. Are we going to break her door down? Absolutely not. And I don’t think she’ll be charged by any U.S. Attorney,” DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne told the Indiana news station.
Then, there’s HIA v. DEA – a lawsuit by a hemp trade association that challenges the agency’s classification of CBD as a Schedule I substance. Federal judges at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case earlier this year. Clearly, attorneys representing hemp businesses have a different interpretation of federal law than the DEA.
So at the end of the day, CBD is not legal in all 50 states — even though it is widely available. At best, the law is murky and open to differing interpretations.
I’m a freelance journalist and the founder of Word on the Tree, a highly respected marijuana newsletter and website. My cannabis coverage has appeared in High Times, Vice, and Cannabis Now, among others. Before jumping on the weed beat, I covered media and tech for Mediabist