On October 31, the US Department of Agriculture published in the Federal Register interim rules governing the production of industrial hemp under the provisions of the 2018 Farm Act (see the USDA press release here).  These rules will allow the USDA to approve state and tribal plans for the regulation of hemp production.  It also allows for the USDA to authorize growers in states that have not adopted their own plans (or that have restricted the production of hemp).  The USDA notes the interest in hemp production driven by interest in CBD products derived from hemp.  While these rules do not address advertising issues specifically, they do ease some of the concerns that many broadcasters and other media companies have had about advertising CBD products when it was unclear that the production of those products was legal.  We wrote about some of those concerns many times, including in our posts here and here.

These interim rules recognize that CBD products can already be legally produced under provisions of the 2014 Farm Act.  As we noted here, that Act authorized experimental production of hemp products.  The 2014 Act also permitted research into commercial exploitation of hemp products – probably permitting greater production than Congress or the USDA expected when the Act was adopted.  The October 31 public notice states that production under the 2014 Act will be allowed to continue for the next three years until permanent rules implementing the 2018 Act are adopted.  In fact, the USDA notes that it expects that over 50% of hemp production will be by those operating under these grandfathered 2014 licenses for the next year.  This seems to recognize that a significant amount of production already underway is in fact legal under federal law, ameliorating some of the concerns as to whether CBD products now being sold could have been legally produced. 
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CBD has been a hot topic for media companies – trying to decipher what products are legal and which can be advertised. We have written a number of articles on CBD, hemp and other cannabis advertising issues (see, for instance, our articles here, here, and here). Each of these articles highlights the confusion about the current state of the law on CBD, not just in the media, but across all industries. Some recent government correspondence indicates that clarity on the legality of CBD production may be coming soon, but that any resolution about the health claims that can be made about CBD products and their use in food and drugs may still be years away. These letters also show that the advertising community risks government concern if advertising does not recognize the continuing regulatory concerns about CBD health claims and its use in food and drugs.

The correspondence that most directly addresses marketing issues is this Warning Letter from the FDA to a CBD distributor in which the FDA warned the distributor about health claims made about its products in the promotional materials that it was distributing online. Many seemingly generic claims about the benefits of CBD were singled out as a source of concern, along with many claims that were more specific citations to studies suggesting that CBD was helpful in treating defined ailments. From the tone of the FDA letter, claims about third-party findings on specific health benefits should not be included in promotional materials. Nor should the more generic claims like these cited in the letter as being problematic:

  • “CBD oil is becoming a popular, all-natural source of relief used to address the symptoms of many common conditions, such as chronic pain, anxiety . . . [and] ADHD.”
  • “The Benefits of CBD Oil for ADHD . . . It’s not unusual for people with ADHD to feel anxious and on the edge. CBD is known for its anti-anxiety properties that can promote relaxation and stress relief. It can also help to restore focus and ability to concentrate on specific tasks, as well as reduce impulsivity.”
  • “CBD can successfully reduce anxiety symptoms, both alone and in conjunction with other treatments.”
  • “CBD oil can be used in a variety of ways to help with chronic anxiety.”
  • “Some of the most common reasons to use CBD oil include . . . Chronic pain . . . Mental conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD . . ..”
  • “CBD . . . can be used to help manage a wide range of health conditions, such as . . . Anxiety and depression . . . Chronic or arthritic pain . . ..”
  • “Some of the most common reasons to use CBD oil include . . . Chronic pain . . . Mental conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD . . ..”

Another issue that arises in advertising CBD and other hemp products is whether any of these products are being legally produced. An interpretative opinion from the USDA sets out under what circumstances the production of CBD products is currently legal in the US. This opinion sets out that the only legal hemp products being produced at this point are the limited products being produced for research purposes under the 2014 Farm Bill. As we wrote here, the government has previously stated that it did not seem to think that commercial production was authorized under the 2014 Bill, yet some growers operating under these pilot plans seem to be relatively big businesses. Otherwise, hemp products including CBD can only be grown pursuant to provisions of the 2018 Farm Act with a USDA license or one issued by a state or tribal nation under a plan approved by the USDA – and the USDA has not yet approved any such plans nor even adopted the framework under which they will evaluate such plans. According to the USDA website, the USDA intends to have regulations in effect by Fall 2019 to accommodate the 2020 planting season. If a state or tribal nation submits a plan before that time, USDA will not review or approve the plan until the regulations are implemented. Thus, there appears to be a very limited universe of hemp products that are currently legally produced and thus can be used for making hemp-derived CBD.
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In the last few months, we probably have had more questions about advertising for CBD products than any other topic. At this point, CBD products seem to be sold in nearly every state in the country, and discussions about CBD’s effectiveness seem to be staples on national and local television talk programs. Broadcasters naturally ask whether they can advertise these seemingly ubiquitous products. Unfortunately, the state of the law on CBD at the current time is particularly confusing, as discussed in this article.

First, a primer on terminology. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a derivative of the Cannabis sativa plant. Industrial hemp is produced from portions of a strain of the same plant containing low concentrations of the psychoactive chemical known as THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and hemp can also be used to produce CBD. In contrast, recreational and medical cannabis, derived from the dried flowers, leaves, and stems of the female Cannabis plant (which we’ll call marijuana to distinguish it from hemp), contains higher concentrations of THC and lower concentrations of CBD. Preliminary clinical research has shown the potential benefits of using CBD to treat anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain, and certainly these properties are attributed to the substance in popular culture. But is it legal?
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