Whenever the public is confused about the law, the potential for fraud is high. That maxim applies to hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products.
The 2019 Iowa Hemp Act and recent changes in federal law have led to questions about what is legal and safe in Iowa.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has released an official statement to help consumers, businesses and farmers understand state and federal laws and avoid misleading and possibly fraudulent claims.
Here’s the bottom line: Any product containing cannabidiol is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under Iowa law and is, thus, illegal.
At this time, the only exceptions to this classification are U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medications and Iowa’s medical CBD program, which is administered by the Iowa Department of Public Health. That program is open only to people with state-issued registration cards and only through licensed dispensaries.
Q: What is hemp?
A: Hemp is defined as the Cannabis sativa L. plant, and any part of that plant, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.
Q: Is it legal to grow, manufacture or process hemp in Iowa?
A: Not yet. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp as an agricultural commodity and removed it from the list of federally controlled substances. The 2019 Iowa Hemp Act, when implemented, will allow for the regulated growing of hemp in Iowa. However, before farmers can start growing hemp, four things must happen in this order:
1. The U.S. Department of Agriculture must promulgate regulations, which it says it intends to do in fall 2019;
2. The Iowa Department of Agriculture must submit a state plan to USDA, which then has 60 days to accept or reject Iowa’s plan;
3. If the plan is accepted, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship must publish rules;
4. Growers will be required to obtain a license from the Iowa Department of Agriculture to start planting.
As a result, the earliest hemp production could be allowed is the 2020 growing season.
Q: Doesn’t the Iowa Hemp Act remove hemp and hemp products from the list of controlled substances?
A: Yes, but those portions of the law do not go into effect until after the USDA approves Iowa’s state plan. That means any products sold over-the-counter that contain CBD fall within the definition of marijuana and are considered Schedule I controlled substances.
Q: Once the new law is in effect, will CBD products be legal?
A: Not necessarily. When the Iowa Hemp Act (Senate File 599) becomes fully effective, CBD products containing no more than 0.3 percent THC will no longer be controlled substances under Iowa law. However, this does not mean that all such products will become legal.
Items such as cloth, cordage, fiber, fuel, paint, paper, particle board, and plastic will be able to be legally produced. Section 7 of the act, however, clarifies that hemp-derived CBD can be added only to products intended for human consumption to the extent consistent with applicable federal law. The FDA has not approved most CBD products intended for human consumption.
Q: Can food, drinks, or supplements containing CBD be sold in Iowa?
A: No, according to the FDA. The only hemp-derived products that the FDA has approved to be marketed in human foods are hulled hemp seed, hemp seed protein powder and hemp seed oil, which do not contain CBD.
The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals issued a regulatory notice in May 2019 that food establishments that offer food — including supplements — containing CBD or food processing plants that manufacture or distribute food containing CBD are in violation of the law.
License holders will be subject to violations and ordered to remove products from shelves.
The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division issued a regulatory bulletin in June 2019 to license and permit holders indicating that CBD and THC are prohibited in alcoholic beverages sold in Iowa.
The Iowa Department of Public Health also has issued a statement regarding the state’s medical cannabidiol program and CBD products.
Q: What about health products made from hemp or CBD?
A: Only four cannabis-derived or -related drugs have been approved by the FDA: Marinol, Syndros, Cesamet, and Epidiolex. No other products have been approved. The FDA has issued warning letters to companies that market CBD products to treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses.
Regardless of the current legal status, consumers should take caution before purchasing CBD products.
Consumers should be aware that CBD products are not regulated for quality by the FDA or the state.
CBD products could potentially contain contaminants, such as heavy metals or pesticides.
The quantity of CBD or THC advertised on a product’s label may not accurately reflect the true composition of the product.
In addition, consumers should be cautious about any CBD product claiming to treat or cure serious diseases or any ailments.
A consumer should never cease taking prescribed medications in favor of taking CBD products without consulting their licensed health-care provider.
Consumers and sellers of CBD products should understand that, because the products are illegal under Iowa law, local law enforcement agencies retain the authority and discretion to take criminal enforcement action against people who sell or possess over-the-counter CBD products.
In addition, the Office of the Attorney General has the authority to take enforcement action against any person for false or misleading advertisements or deceptive sales practices related to CBD products.
Warning for farmers
Claims are abundant that farmers could “make a killing” growing hemp.
But regulators have seen irrational exuberance over alternative crops before, and the potential for fraud and overstated returns is high.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture advises growers to do their research and confirm there is a viable, profitable market for commercial hemp production before they make an investment in seed and equipment.
Growers and landowners should ask for documented returns and seek contracts that spell out payment details.
For more information on how the Iowa Hemp Act affects farmers, visit the website https://iowaagriculture.gov/hemp.
Tom Miller is the Iowa attorney general. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Complaints may be filed with the Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division at Hoover Building, 1305 E. Walnut St., Des Moines, IA 50319.