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California Might Be Progressive with Marijuana, But CBD is an Entirely Different Story

california CBD
Written by Alexandra Hicks

Although California is viewed as a liberal paradise – especially regarding cannabis laws – the way this state regulates CBD is still incredibly limited and regressive.

California has the oldest and largest legal cannabis market in the world. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state for 24 years now, recreational is legal, and you can easily find flower and other high-THC products in most localities. However, when it comes to CBD (cannabidiol), California dispensaries need a special license to sell hemp flower, it’s illegal to infuse CBD in edibles, and a bill is on the table that would prohibit anyone under 21 years old from buying any it.

Why the discrepancy when CBD is non-psychoactive and federally legal?

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Over two decades of medical marijuana

Back in 1996, the Golden State became the first to legalize the use of medical marijuana. It was uncharted territory, and putting Prop 215 – The Compassionate Use Act, into practice would be no easy task; but the main objective was “to ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

And the bill really meant ANY illness. This drew a lot of criticism, with many lawmakers believing that cannabis should only be prescribed for a very limited list of predetermined conditions. However, lawmakers are not doctors or scientists and are in no position to make assumptions on the therapeutic potential of cannabis. Questions of medication, treatments, and prescriptions should handled by healthcare practitioners and their patients.

Aside from ensuring that patients have easy access to cannabis, and that doctors are free to prescribe it as they see fit, Prop 215 also aimed to guarantee that patients and their primary caregivers were not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction for cannabis use.

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It was truly one of the more progressive political movements of its time, and many states followed suit in the coming years. By the turn of the millennium, a total of 9 states had legalized cannabis for medical use, either through ballot measure or state legislature.

One of the main concerns that opponents of medical marijuana voiced relentlessly was the possibility of abuse and muddled line separating recreational users and true medical users. The program was strict and limited at first, but over time enforcement just gradually faded away and it became extremely easy, some would say too easy, to get access to “medical” marijuana.

Pretty much everyone I knew had a medical card by their 18th birthday, and none of us were chronically ill by any means. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not against easy access to cannabis, I myself have been smoking since my teens. But at that point, with how easy it was for just about anyone to get a medical cannabis card, that only left one very obvious question… why not just legalize it across the board?

Proposition 64

In November 2016, California voters approved the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. As a result, local governments (city and county) could no longer prohibit adults from growing, using, or transporting marijuana for personal use.

California Cannabis Businesses are Still Banned, Despite Legalization

Although it was a long time coming, and no longer prosecuting citizens for marijuana crimes is always an advancement, the new legal market presented its own set of challenges. Local control and bans (moratoriums) were put in place, leading to more than half of California cities banning recreational dispensaries before they even got their feet off the ground. That along with high taxes made it extremely difficult for new businesses to open and remain operational.

For dispensaries transitioning from medical only to medical and recreational, or only recreational, there were many hoops to jump through – and by “hoops” I mean money to be paid in the form of taxes and licensing fees. Dispensary owners have to pass these costs on to the customers, which is why you’ll see eighths of flower for $80 at some stores. These high costs continue to drive consumers to the black/grey market, which only means ongoing struggles for the legal industry.

No CBD Flower at California Dispensaries

One rule that’s incredibly odd, is that dispensaries have to get separate licensing to sell CBD/hemp flower. Normally, it’s the opposite way around, considering CBD flower is federally legal, but not in California.

Where to buy CBD Flower in California

In California, even after going through all the regulatory framework and paying all of your licensing fees to open a legal, recreational dispensary – you know, one of those places where you can buy concentrates with over 90% THC – you’re still prohibited from selling non-intoxicating hemp flowers unless you pay even more money to the state.

However, to make things even more confusing, if you don’t own a marijuana dispensary, but you own a regular store front selling CBD products, there are no restrictions on the sale of non-food, hemp products – including flowers.

Restrictive Extract Laws

A piece of legislature drafted for review by various California state administrations would prohibit interstate commerce of hemp extract as well as ban the sale of hemp/CBD products to anyone under 21 years of age. If passed, these would be the most restrictive hemp/CBD laws in the entire country, short of banning these products altogether. Hemp industry leaders are calling the draft language “draconian” and fear it could hinder the work done by many activists and organizers, who have brought the hemp industry as far as it is today.

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According to Jonathan Miller, a hemp industry attorney based out of Lexington, KY, and a general counsel member f the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, “The challenge here is that the California General Assembly leaves town next week. We are running up against a deadline. There are three parties involved – the governor and his administration, including the California Department of Public Health, the state legislature, and the CBD/hemp industry. For two years, the Department of Public Health has said it is illegal to sell CBD as a dietary supplement or food additive, but they haven’t really enforced it across the board.”

He added that, “We have seen enforcement actions against stores on a county level. We would like to see legislation passed that explicitly says cannabinoids can be sold. We are now negotiating with the governor’s office and are optimistic we can get a good bill passed, but we are running out of time. In some of the drafts, we’ve seen some things that we thought were poison pills. We either reach agreement soon or we are going to fight. No bill is better than a bad bill.”

According to another California lobbyist who wished to remain anonymous, “It’s also a matter of existing jobs in hemp and agriculture. Hopefully the administration and legislature will be mindful that some businesses will leave the state, and some will go bankrupt. And consumers may not understand that their access to hemp and CBD products could be cut off,” the individual said.

Final Thoughts

Cannabis laws are confusing, but this seems to be particularly true in California, despite the fact that the Golden State has had the most time to figure it out – 24 years to be exact. When it comes to marijuana and THC, the black market has the advantage. If these new laws regarding CBD pass, it will drive a federally legal cannabinoid to the state’s thriving illegal market as well.

Thanks for stopping by CBD TESTERS, your hub for all things cannabis-related. Stop by regularly and make sure to subscribe to the Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter to keep up-to-date on all the most interesting industry topics.


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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.