CBD is an increasingly popular option for people across the U.S. and beyond who believe it helps with many quality-of-life issues. Word-of-mouth, changing legality on the state level – and federal level in Canada – and many other factors have all influenced the acceptance and use of CBD. However, a complicated overall legal environment means that, in general, most businesses cannot import or export CBD oil.
Let's take a closer look at what CBD oil is, consider the many laws that affect it, and review how it can and can't be sold and transported inside the U.S. and across its national borders.
What is CBD, exactly?
CBD is the common abbreviation for cannabidol, which is one of many cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, another major component of cannabis that has psychoactive properties and affects qualities such as mood and perception, CBD is seen as nonintoxicating, as HealthDay News reported. Many users believe it has a range of benefits in terms of addressing anxiety, stress and pain. However, it's important to note that the only medically proven application of CBD is in treating some forms of epilepsy. Although preliminary research indicates some early potential benefits in terms of anti-inflammatory properties and lessening anxiety, more work is required before it can be proven in a medical context.
It's important to note that CBD doesn't have to come from a cannabis plant that also contains THC. It can be sourced from hemp plants bred to have low THC content as well as produced in a laboratory. CBD is often seen as an oil that can be ingested directly, but it's also sold in pills, included in supplements and beverages and offered in other forms. The prescription form for certain types of epilepsy is provided as a liquid.
What is the legal environment around CBD?
The executive summary of the legality of CBD is that it's complicated. Harvard Medical School described its legal state as "in flux." All 50 states in the U.S. have some type of law that allows for CBD use in certain contexts, but some laws are more restrictive than others. The patchwork of state-level laws that make recreational or medical cannabis legal in those jurisdictions, along with the fact that CBD can be extracted from hemp plants or created artificially, makes the issue especially murky.
Hemp recently became legal through legislative action finalized in December 2018, as MarketWatch reported. The Food and Drug Administration issued a statement at that time that noted it would continue to disallow the addition of CBD to food and health products without approval. However, Harvard Medical School said that while CBD is technically in the same drug classification as cannabis – Category I, the most restricted – it's a low priority for enforcement. For these reasons, CBD is widely accessible. That's true even though retailers may be technically breaking the law when selling it, especially in e-commerce situations where they ship products across state lines. This is a case of interstate commerce where the federal government can become involved.
Why is it difficult or risky to import or export CBD?
Marijuana Business Daily spoke with Henry Baskerville, a lawyer based in Denver, who said the legal risks of selling hemp-derived CBD products via e-commerce are low but still exist. In terms of international sales to certain countries, it may seem that there are similarly low risks at first. Canada, for example, legalized cannabis, including CBD, on a federal level in 2018. A quick review of the situation for an e-commerce retailer in a state with legal cannabis may lead to the conclusion that selling such a product, allowed in both jurisdictions, doesn't carry any risk. This evaluation may make sense on the surface, but it doesn't take some important international commerce issues into account.
With cannabis still illegal on a federal level in the U.S., shipments to another country like Canada may face additional scrutiny from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which regulates international commerce. The standard response of Customs and Border Protection is not particularly clear in cases where agents discover CBD products intended for a foreign destination, but confiscation and destruction are possible outcomes. The customs agency could also pursue criminal charges, although whether or not this is likely is unclear.
It's also important to note that CBD can only be imported to Canada for medical or scientific purposes, as Marijuana Business Daily reported. This is another point where Canadian customs officials could potentially confiscate or destroy any incoming CBD products.
Legal considerations aside, the possibility that an international customer wouldn't receive a CBD product due to government action on either side of the border shouldn't be ignored. With so many risks facing businesses potentially interested in selling CBD products, it appears the best course of action until laws change is to limit sales to domestic transactions.