With a newer, more progressive government and a commitment from Vice President Kamala Harris, federal legalization is looking more likely than ever. So what’s the current status of the legal cannabis movement, and how will the already booming CBD market be affected if cannabis becomes a national market?

Key Points

  • The 2018 farm bill amendments allowed for hemp for CBD to grown and sold nationally (though states retain final authority).
  • Despite the farm bill, a lack of federal guidelines means that many CBD manufacturers struggle to access key business and financial resources.
  • The MORE act, which aims to decriminalize all cannabis consumption and end the War on Drugs, passed through the House of Representatives in December 2020.
  • The act is not currently expected to pass in the Senate.

The path to federal legalization

Back in October 2020, cannabis stocks surged after the then-vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris made an exciting announcement: marijuana will be federally decriminalized under a Biden administration.

After that, perhaps more quickly than some might have expected, a path to legalization began to emerge. In December, the House of Representatives indirectly backed the idea of legal cannabis by passing the MORE act, also known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement act.

Approved 228 to 164 by The House, the MORE act is designed to do a few different things—one of which is to set the table for future relaxations on therapeutic or recreational drug use. The act will decriminalize marijuana, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and introducing federal taxation schemes that should redirect funds towards communities affected by the war on drugs.

Predictably, the act has received widespread support across different sections of the country, with letters being sent to House leaders from civil and human rights groups, social workers, and over 100 public health professionals. Even law enforcement officials have voiced their support, with letters from dozens of current and former police officers.

The MORE Act would:

  • Decriminalize marijuana federally by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act
  • Facilitate federal expungements for minor charges and incentivize state and local governments to do the same
  • Create pathways for ownership opportunities for local and minority entrepreneurs
  • Allow veterans to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their VA doctors
  • Remove the threat of deportation for immigrants

(Source: norml.org)

Awaiting a Senate decision

Having passed in the house, the act now needs the go-ahead from the Senate, which almost nobody considers a realistic possibility. This is despite the fact that Georgia’s still-to-be-decided January runoff elections could tip the Senate in favor of the democrats. This is due to the existing filibuster, which means that 60 votes would be needed to pass the measure in the Senate.

So the whole thing may be more political gaming than a straightforward attempt at creating legislation. The real aim of the MORE act seems to be to put pressure on the Biden administration to take more executive action on marijuana laws when they get into power.

What’s the current status of CBD?

Despite the continuing struggle over federally legal marijuana, the status of CBD has been relatively steady for some time. Today, high-quality CBD products for humans and pets are available to purchase and use across the vast majority of the country, with the only caveats being in a few states like Idaho and Alaska, where there are limitations on the types of CBD people can legally buy.

The 2018 Farm Bill

The main reason behind why CBD is available in places where other cannabis products aren’t is due to 2018’s amendments to the federal farm bill. Those amendments officially separated hemp plants—non-intoxicating strains of cannabis—from marijuana, which is cannabis containing high amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC.

With a different classification in place, hemp-made CBD products containing less than 0.3 percent THC are legal to buy and consume (almost) everywhere. This covers the majority of human-grade CBD oils and product, and all pet CBD products. Because no legitimate pet CBD is made from THC-containing cannabis, there should be no issue in finding quality CBD for your dog or cat.

How will the CBD market change if/when marijuana is legalized?

Even though the farm bill marked CBD as a separate, legally consumable cannabis product, barriers are still in place for CBD producers. Banks, insurers, and other financial institutions that operate on a federal level have largely refused to work with the CBD industry, due to difficulties caused by the state/federal legal mismatch.

Even though the federal and state perspectives on CBD are far more aligned than on marijuana in general, this wariness has extended to human and pet CBD producers, meaning that many brands struggle to access critical startup resources, such as loans and distribution deals.

With a full federal go-ahead for cannabis products of all types, CBD brands should be able to fully integrate with other industries, leading to a full mainstreaming of CBD products. Expect a boost in investment and greater access to (and choice of) CBD in physical and online stores.

Physicians, Vets, and the FDA

Perhaps the biggest change to CBD products that would occur under a cannabis-friendly Biden administration, however, is the official involvement of the FDA is monitoring and regulating the cannabis industry. Right now, the FDA has only licensed one CBD product for therapeutic use (a treatment for certain types of severe epilepsy in humans), with all other products using independent methods such as third-party testing and ‘seed-to-shelf’ transparency to establish product quality.

While these kinds of indirect or unofficial regulations may satisfy current customers, a federally regulated CBD market would allow professional associations to jump on the CBD bandwagon. Specifically, that means an increase in the use of CBD in physician and veterinarian practices. Today, only a tiny minority of vets are able to recommend CBD products to pet owners and, though they can freely discuss CBD when directly asked, they won’t bring up the subject without prompting. If progress on federal legalization is made, expect that dynamic to completely change, with thousands more pets being introduced to the benefits of CBD.