Hemp advocates and industry leaders last week called on the federal government to ease access to cannabidiol as a House of Representatives subcommittee held a hearing to investigate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to regulate CBD as an ingredient in foods, beverages and dietary supplements.

At Thursday’s hearing of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s Subcommittee on Health Care and Financial Services, lawmakers and witnesses criticized the FDA’s refusal to regulate CBD and noted how the agency’s inaction on the subject has impacted individuals and families eager to take advantage of the cannabinoid’s health and wellness benefits. 

“Lack of a federal framework has led to the proliferation of unregulated products, some of which raise significant quality, safety, and other consumer protection concerns,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the industry group the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told the members of the subcommittee.

In opening remarks prepared for the hearing, Republican Representative Lisa McClain, the chair of the subcommittee, noted that “if you buy a CBD consumer product off the shelf today, in many cases there’s no way for the average consumer to verify its purity or even the amount of CBD in it, or rely on FDA’s enforcement of regulations. 

“In fact, one study that tested almost 3,000 CBD products showed that only one-quarter of brands test their CBD products for purity and only sixteen percent of products tested contained exclusively what was stated on their labels,” McClain continued. “That’s because FDA hasn’t regulated CBD as a dietary supplement or food additive in the five years since hemp was legalized.”

Hemp Legalized In 2018

Congress legalized hemp agriculture and commerce five years ago with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. But since then, the FDA has refused to regulate hemp-derived CBD for use in foods, beverages and dietary supplements, and in January announced it would not do so without further legislation from Congress.

“This announcement has led to confusion and uncertainty in the market, which has suppressed the ability for good faith manufacturers to sell CBD products,” she said. “It only benefits bad actors who capitalize on the confusion and the flood of the market with potentially unsafe products. The FDA must do better and use their already existing authority to regulate how derived products you know actually do the job they were signed up to do.”

Witnesses also emphasized how the lack of a regulatory framework for hemp-derived CBD from the FDA has also contributed to the proliferation of products containing intoxicating cannabinoids, most prominently delta-8 THC, which are being sold in unregulated products, sometimes to minors. While none of the witnesses called for the criminalization of these products, they called for strict safety regulations to keep them out of the hands of children.

“In many states, including Kentucky, most delta-8 THC products are sold through unregulated market sources like convenience stores, smoke shops, gas stations, and even can be ordered online. These products are not reliably tested and have been found to contain many impurities,” said Richard A. Badaracco, president-elect of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers Association and a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent. “Assuming these products remain legal, the optimal approach is following the lead of Kentucky, whose General Assembly this year passed legislation unanimously to strictly regulate these products and keep them out of the hands of minors.”

Paige Figi, founder of the Coalition for Access Now, has been an outspoken advocate of CBD for more than a decade after discovering it significantly reduced the seizures suffered by her daughter Charlotte, who died in 2020 at the age of 13 following a nearly lifelong battle with intractable epilepsy. After watching last week’s hearing from her home in Colorado Springs, Figi called on the FDA to ease access to CBD for families across the country.

“We have been united with families, athletes, seniors, veterans, and others who rely on the benefits of CBD for almost a decade. Today’s hearing shows that common sense, bipartisan reform to push the FDA to do its job and regulate hemp-derived CBD as a dietary supplement is close,” Figi wrote in an email to High Times. “The 45 million Americans who rely on the benefits CBD for their chronic conditions are encouraged that members of Congress will stand up for their constituents to pass legislation that will support access for patients now.”

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