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Now that marijuana’s legal, state must relax rules for CBD and hemp products

Fresno State student offering hemp with CBD products for pain relief

Fresno State Business Entrepreneurship major Alicia Porras is marketing hemp oils and cream with CBD for pain relief
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Fresno State Business Entrepreneurship major Alicia Porras is marketing hemp oils and cream with CBD for pain relief

There was a time when American farmers were legally required to grow hemp. Among the agricultural enthusiasts who produced the crop were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Times changed. Hemp, burdened by its connection to cannabis, was disparaged and banned in 1937. But the venerable plant is making a comeback – with support from the federal government.

In December, federal policies banning industrial hemp moved from the dark ages into the sunlight with the presidential signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which declared hemp a legal agricultural product distinct from cannabis.

This means hemp, which possesses only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive fuel that propels cannabis, can be legally produced. This also means manufacturers can foresee scalable production of cannabidiol, or CBD, an extract used for creams, lotions, oils and countless food and beverage products.

CBD is the non-psychoactive component of marijuana. With laboratory equipment and knowledge, it can be extracted from hemp. From a scientific standpoint, the benefits of CBD for human consumption have not been fully addressed. However, the Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged the strong potential for CBD, and consumers seem to find great value in the product.

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The retail market for CBD products is expected to hit $22 billion in 2022. Major corporations are searching for market footholds. Lifestyle mogul Martha Stewart recently partnered with a Canadian company to promote a CBD line.

Yet, in California, only CBD derived from cannabis can be sold in cannabis dispensaries because Prop. 64 specifically defined cannabis to exclude hemp and hemp-derived products. This was done to avoid confusion between the two plants, but it means CBD derived from hemp is in a legal gray area.

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Bill Dombrowski

And while CBD and hemp oils are ubiquitous, showing up everywhere from grocery stores and shopping malls to doorsteps via Amazon and UPS, California public health authorities are at war with the products.

The Prohibition mentality response by California to CBD and hemp is perplexing, considering the state’s traditional leadership role. But that’s today’s reality – a visionary state backpedals while the federal government moves forward to recognize a popular, non-psychoactive product with countless benefits.

California treats CBD and hemp as relics from the “Reefer Madness” era. This puts the state in danger of abdicating its enterprising status.

CBD warehouses and manufacturing operations have been raided. State inspectors from the California Department of Public Health have removed CBD products from retail stores. Public health officials have ordered embargoes on CBD and hemp, costing millions of dollars in potential sales and ruined materials.

The CBD and hemp industries conservatively estimate they employ around 1,000 people in California, but the true number is probably higher. Those livelihoods are being destroyed along with the products they manufacture and ship to eager consumers.

Along the way, California is destroying its chance to build a global industry. Farmers in other countries are filling the U.S. wholesale demand for industrial hemp and CBD.

Both federal and California public health authorities say they are concerned about CBD and hemp oils making their way into food. Such logic ignores the millions of people who have used CBD and hemp products for generations.

How can California regain its leadership position and reconcile its tangled relationship with hemp and CBD?

Help is on the way in the form of legislation sponsored by State Assembly Member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). Assembly Bill 228 would prohibit state officials from restricting the sale of foods, beverages and cosmetics that contain CBD or industrial hemp oils.

If AB 228 advances and earns the governor’s signature, it will reaffirm California’s positive relationship with CBD and hemp.

The bill deserves widespread public support. After all, CBD and industrial hemp are far less controversial than the adult-use cannabis voters approved in 2016.

Bill Dombrowski, former President & CEO of the California Retailers Association, is a member of the California Cannabis Advisory Committee.
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