CBD in Canada—What’s Legal and What Isn’t

By Melena Gurganus
Esteban Lopez, Unsplash

Within the past year, many legislative changes have lead the way for a growing cannabis industry—even in other countries. Canada legalized recreational cannabis on a national scale in October of 2018, and citizens lined up outside of dispensaries to buy legal marijuana for the first time.

Given these recent updates on the legality of cannabis, some people are curious about the effect that it may have on CBD products. CBD in Canada is treated much differently than CBD oil in the states in a variety of ways, including its legal status and approval from leading health organizations.

Is CBD oil legal in Canada?

Before the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes, cannabidiol (CBD) was deemed illegal in Canada unless approved for medicinal use. Following the Cannabis Act, CBD and hemp are now legal to buy in dispensaries across Canada, but they are viewed in the same regards as psychoactive marijuana. This is an interesting stance to have considering that CBD products contain little to no THC (the compound in cannabis that gets you high), and have been used by many people for their therapeutic properties.

In addition to their outlook CBD, the Canadian government has also placed restrictions on what kind of cannabis extracts are legal to sell. Flower buds, pre-rolled joints, cannabis oil, plants, and seeds are available to purchase, but edibles and concentrates are not yet legal within Canada.

There are also age limits for purchasing cannabis in Canada, which only gives access to those over the age of 19 (or 18 if you are in Quebec or Alberta). This was designed to help reduce exposure of Canadian youth to marijuana, and put the power to regulate the cannabis industry in the hands of the Canadian government rather than people illegally selling the drug.

Canada vs. America—Who favors CBD more?

The United States government views CBD in a different light than our northern neighbors, especially when it comes to edibles and other infused products. In America, CBD oil is legal for purchase, although there is a grey area that confuses many consumers when they consider trying CBD.

CBD in the U.S. is most often sold online rather than in store front businesses, and it is exclusively derived from hemp plants to avoid a THC level that exceeds 0.3 percent. This is how CBD products are separated from marijuana in terms of legality—they do not produce psychoactive effects and, because of this, they are not held to the same federally illegal statutes as other cannabis products.

More recently, hemp was deemed to be an agricultural crop by the 2018 Farm Bill and is now legal across the country, unlike marijuana cannabis strains. However, this does not mean that CBD products are welcomed by the American government.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expressed its concerns about the efficacy and safety of CBD products, especially since there are no existing regulations in place to monitor them. Even with the recent legalization of hemp, the FDA seems to be cracking down even harder on CBD companies, especially those who make health claims about their products. While many people find that CBD can alleviate some of their ailments, the FDA has yet to evaluate these products and are skeptical of their suggested health benefits.

On the other hand, leading health organizations in Canada have a different take on CBD.

It’s true that CBD is treated more like a marijuana product instead of a hemp derivative within Canada’s borders, but they also appear to have a more open-minded outlook when it comes to CBD. For instance, CBD edibles are not currently legal to buy or sell, but the Canadian Health Food Association has called on the government to lessen restrictions on CBD in food products.

This is much different story than in the United States, where government agencies work to bar the general public from buying CBD products rather than increasing access to them.

How to Close the Gap

There’s a lot of misinformation clouding the CBD market and its products, which makes it difficult for consumers in both the U.S. and Canada to make informed decisions about the cannabis extracts they are purchasing.

In Canada, it may be beneficial to consider the potential of CBD as a natural health product. As the president of the Canadian Health Food Association said, “An increasing number of Canadians are looking for cannabis products for their health, not to get high. [CBD] doesn’t have THC in it, it doesn’t have that high component.” There is already some talk that CBD will be allowed in food products during late 2019, but only time will tell.

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