California makes cannabis legal to possess and buy for adults 21 and older, and cannabidiol (CBD) oil products are widely available at dispensaries and over-the-counter at other retailers. However, state law prohibits CBD oil derived from hemp from being added to foods and drinks until the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines it is safe.
California is known as one of the most liberal states in the nation — and so it makes sense that it's also been one of the strongest supporters of cannabis legalization. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana when it passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. And 20 years later, the state passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which legalized cannabis for recreational purposes.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis. It is the second-most-abundant cannabinoid in the plant after THC. CBD is also purported to showl therapeutic benefits, including anti-inflammatory, analgesic, seizure-suppressing, and anti-anxiety properties.
Why is CBD sometimes illegal?
Hemp strains don't produce enough of the cannabinoid THC to cause intoxication, but all types of cannabis, including hemp, were considered illegal under the 1970 Federal Controlled Substances Act. The legislation swept all cannabis under the Schedule 1 umbrella, which defined cannabis as a substance with a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and a likelihood for addiction.
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp cultivation and created a clear pathway to remove some cannabis from Schedule 1 status by creating a legal distinction between hemp and marijuana. Under the new legislation, hemp is classified as cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC by weight, while marijuana is classified as cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC. As a result, hemp-derived CBD was descheduled by the bill, but because marijuana is categorized as a Schedule 1 substance, CBD that is derived from the marijuana plant is still considered federally illegal. While hemp is now considered an agricultural commodity under the 2018 Farm Bill, it still must be produced and sold under regulations that implement the bill. The USDA has yet to create these regulations.
The Farm Bill also endowed the FDA with the ability to regulate CBD's labeling, therapeutic claims, and presence in foods or drinks. Despite the Farm Bill's passage, the FDA has issued a directive that no CBD, not even hemp-derived, may be added to food or beverages or marketed as a dietary supplement. As time passes, the FDA has begun re-evaluating that stance on CBD products but has yet to revise rules or specifically regulate CBD products. The FDA's slow movement has created further confusion on the state level.
The FDA has historically been strict when it comes to health claims or content that could be understood as medical advice — and makes no exception for CBD.
Hemp production and sale, including its cannabinoids and CBD specifically, remain tightly regulated federally. The Farm Bill provides that individual states may also regulate and even prohibit CBD cultivation and commerce. States may attempt to regulate CBD in food, beverage, dietary supplements, and cosmetic products independently of the FDA's rules.
California CBD laws
Currently, California's definition of CBD is consistent with the federal definition. According to a letter issued by the Attorney General's Office, “although California currently allows the manufacturing and sales of cannabis products (including edibles), the use of industrial hemp as the source of CBD to be added to food products is prohibited. Until the FDA rules that industrial hemp-derived CBD oil and CBD products can be used as a food or California makes a determination that they are safe to use for human and animal consumption, CBD products are not an approved food, food ingredient, food additive, or dietary supplement.”
After the 2018 Farm Bill passed, the state introduced AB 228, which would have clarified CBD legality and legalized hemp-derived CBD to be included in food, beverage, and cosmetics products without restrictions, but the bill was held. Until the bill is passed and signed by the governor, California's laws surrounding hemp-derived CBD and CBD oil remain consistent with the FDA.
Licensing requirements for CBD
The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which authorized the commercial production of industrial hemp, went into effect in early 2017. The act, SB 566, authorizes the commercial production of industrial hemp in California and became effective on Jan. 1, 2017. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is developing a program to administer the new law.
All growers of industrial hemp for commercial purposes must register with a county agricultural commissioner prior to cultivation. Registration applications are available on the CDFA Industrial Hemp Program web page. The annual registration fee is currently $900.
While the hemp program is still being developed by the CFDA, the California Department of Public Health has clear labeling regulations around cannabis products, which includes information regarding the products' origins, expiration, ingredients and amounts of THC and CBD. Labels also may not contain any misleading information, make unproven health claims, or be designed in a way that is attractive to children.
Hemp growers must also submit samples for THC concentration testing no more than 30 days before harvest. Registrants must submit their registration number, name and contact information, anticipated harvest date, name of the seed cultivar(s), physical address, Global Positioning System coordinates, general description of the location, and acreage of the crop, and the name and contact information of the laboratory to conduct the testing for THC content.
Once that information is received, samples will be collected by the commissioner or an approved third-party for testing. All labs must have an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) / International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 17025 accreditation and use a validated method for total THC analysis. Any industrial hemp crop that doesn't meet testing requirements will be destroyed.
California CBD possession limits
Currently, there are no clear possession limits on CBD oil in California.
Where to buy CBD in California
While hemp-derived CBD cannot be used in food, beverages, or dietary supplements in California, you can still find a variety of CBD products, including CBD oil, in both retail stores and online.
Because the manufacturing and sale of CBD products is still unregulated, it's important to do your research and make sure you're purchasing from a reputable source.
How to read CBD labels and packaging
Though California's product label guidelines have been delineated, there remain some questions about how they apply to hemp-derived CBD products. It's important to have the information necessary to make an informed decision about the ingredients, efficacy, and safety of the CBD products you purchase. Most reputable CBD producers will typically include the following information required by the California Department of Public Health on their CBD product labels:
- Amount of CBD and THC per package
- Amount of CBD and THC per serving
- Amount of any cannabinoid that makes up 5% of more of the total cannabinoid content
- Supplement Fact panel, including other ingredients
- Net weight or volume
- Suggested and instructions for use
- Full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate
- Batch or date code
- Product identity, including the words “cannabis-infused” for edibles
- Universal symbol that identifies items as containing cannabis
- Manufacturer name and contact information
- Date of manufacture/packaging
- Government warning statement for cannabis products
- Unique Identifier (UID) Number
- List of all ingredients (including any allergens or artificial food coloring)
- Expiration date
- Refrigeration notice on perishable products