State and federal regulation of CBD will help provide a consistent, trustworthy

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Amid the gold rush that is the current market, brands and product lines continue to diversify and expand. The past few years have seen the Food and Drug Administration scramble to develop a cohesive set of guidelines for the manufacture and commerce of CBD, with individual states hastily implementing their own patchworks of regulations. Unfortunately, a lack of clear directives at a federal level has left consumers vulnerable to substandard products that are inferior with respect to potency and purity.  

While sweeping legislative reform is on the horizon in New York and the U.S., consumers need independent insight into this nascent market now. Much as American cowboys moved across the Western frontier amid a climate of lawlessness, CBD has swept similarly across the US (and the world at large). Ointments, edibles, tinctures, balms and capsules are exploding onto the market, alongside niche CBD-infused drinks, foods, skin care, pet care and hair care products, with many making unfounded claims about well-being benefits.  

The global CBD market is tipped to reach $3.5 billion this yearbut as industry reports have shown, many of these products do not measure up to their promises of potency or quality. While consumers are excited by the genuine therapeutic promise of this cannabinoid, so too are unscrupulous manufacturers and retailers who see the potential to sell snake oil and cash in.  

A number of factors render regulation of the CBD space challenging. For starters, it’s a category-bending compound in many ways. It’s a cannabinoid that is nonintoxicating but psychoactive. The FDA views CBD as a drug or “active ingredient,” although hemp (containing 0.3% THC or less) is legal at a federal level, which means its inclusion in foods and beverages has been fraught with regulatory complications. This has been particularly evident in New York, where the city’s Department of Health moved to ban CBD-infused food and drinks from bars and restaurants in 2019.  

The FDA is fine-tuning its stance toward CBD, exploring available research on its therapeutic benefits, side-effect profile, long-term use and dosage guidelines. At this stage, the FDA has approved only a single CBD product, Epidiolex, which is used to treat seizures in certain forms of childhood epilepsy.  

As it stands, consumers must navigate CBD products (and their sometimes murky claims) on their own—or make sense of rapidly changing legal landscapes in their home state. New Yorkers, for example, are subject to the extensive and rigorous regulations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 Cannabinoid Hemp Program—but this program will undergo revisions under the soon-to-be established Office of Cannabis Management following the enactment of the 2021 Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. For those unable, or uninterested, in keeping abreast of rapid legislative change, straightforward, clear information regarding the quality and potency of CBD products is invaluable.

The instability and inconsistency between state and federal regulations of CBD have created a sloppy patchwork of rules that can have detrimental effects on consumers and the industry at large. The recent introduction of the Hemp Access and Consumer Safety Act of 2021 could be the linchpin that brings order to the chaos at a national level. If enacted, the legislation would amend the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and allow hemp-derived CBD to be classified as a food and supplement ingredient.

The FDA views hemp-derived CBD as a drug. The regulatory framework surrounding the update to the law prevents the FDA from setting clear regulatory frameworks for hemp and hemp-derived CBD when it’s used as a food and supplement ingredient. This landmark legislation would subject foods and dietary supplements containing hemp and CBD to all of the protections afforded by FDA’s food and dietary supplement regulatory frameworks.

In addition, the measure would prioritize consumer safety, mandating that manufacturers comply with all existing federal regulations for the products that contain CBD, and ensure that these products are properly labeled.

It’s vital to recognize that stateside, significant legislative changes will contribute to streamlining rules surrounding CBD use. In New York, for example, passage of Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act signals not only changes for adult-use cannabis, but for CBD too. As a recently released memo stated, the legislation will create a new Office of Cannabis Management, governed by a Cannabis Control Board to oversee and implement the measure. The Office of Cannabis Management will oversee the state’s existing Cannabinoid Hemp Program, which is regulated by the Department of Health. By overhauling the CBD and hemp program and pulling it under the jurisdiction of one dedicated office, consumers, retailers and manufacturers will, with luck, be empowered with clearer directives.

The upshot? The changes ushered in by these respective bills most likely will lead to more consistent and concise regulations, and enhance and standardize CBD product quality. It’s a shift that can only benefit this rapidly growing industry.

Lital Shafir is head of product at Leafreport, an educational platform that provides medical-based, peer-reviewed content on CBD for consumers. 

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