Staff Columnist

CBD is easy to get, but Gov. Reynolds warns Iowans it's still illegal for most of us

In signing hemp bill, governor reminds us one of hemp's non-toxic derivatives remains outlawed

Joe Scholz manager of the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Your CBD Store talks about items available for sale at the store, 5
Joe Scholz manager of the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Your CBD Store talks about items available for sale at the store, 5466 Blairs Forest Way NE, in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. Besides the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids locations, the company also has locations in Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, Ill. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds last week signed the bipartisan Iowa Hemp Act, which directs the Department of Agriculture to develop a plan to regulate legal hemp production. Finally, Iowa is poised to take part in the hemp boom.

Iowa politicians are excited about the potential of hemp, which has many practical uses but for decades suffered from being unfairly linked to marijuana. Reynolds tempered that excitement with a warning — this law does not legalize all hemp-derived products.

Hemp contains cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-toxic compound with potential therapeutic applications. While CBD lotions and food items are easy to obtain online and in stores, Reynolds reminds Iowans such products are not authorized by our federal government overseers.

“State law cannot pre-empt the federal law, and Iowans engaging in the manufacture, sale, or purchase of hemp-derived products should carefully consider the legality of their actions under Iowa and federal law,” Reynolds wrote in a statement accompanying her signature.

Hemp products containing CBD have been around for many years. For most of that time, nobody seemed to care.

Interest in the substance has grown exponentially in the past few years, as state governments relaxed cannabis restrictions and new products became available. Some say CBD helps relieve pain and anxiety, without impairing users the way marijuana and pharmaceuticals do.

With that new popularity came the threat of legal action. Law enforcement agencies began warning that CBD sellers and users could face criminal prosecution.

The applicable laws and regulatory directives may be confusing to Iowans without legal training.


The farm bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, so the substance no longer is an illegal drug under federal law, but the FDA has not approved CBD as a dietary supplement or food additive.

Under Iowa Code, mature cannabis stalks and oil made from the seeds — which could contain CBD — are specifically exempt from the legal definition of marijuana. However, the 2017 Medical Cannabidiol Act states that people using CBD outside the state medical program are subject to penalties.

The Iowa Department of Public Health published a “position statement” last year to say legal CBD products can be purchased only by patients and caregivers with a medical CBD registration card from the state, a population that totals just under 3,000 statewide. The statement notes other agencies, not the health department, have enforcement authority.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has not issued an official opinion about CBD enforcement and prosecution, but his office offered this statement: “The Legislature has approved only one way to obtain CBD, and that’s through a state-licensed distributor.”

The poorly kept secret in all this is there is no consistent enforcement mechanism. Some police departments and county attorneys have intervened in CBD sales, while others have stood by. Even ardent drug warriors can recognize it would be a bad look to start arresting small-business owners and seniors looking for natural pain relief.

So Reynolds did a good thing by signing the hemp law. It’s too bad she had to harsh the vibe by reminding us of drug prohibition.

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