Cannabis and Hemp and CBD, Oh My! A Breakdown for Food Retailers

By: Peter Matz, Director, Nutrition & Food Policy, Food Marketing Institute

Whether you are walking through the aisles of your local supermarket, convenience store, pharmacy or simply perusing a health magazine, you have probably seen an increase in the number of products and advertisements promoting ingredients such as hemp and especially cannabidiols or “CBD.” Given the significant consumer interest in this emerging market, more and more companies are taking steps towards entering this space; from ingestible products, including foods, beverages and dietary supplements, to topical products, such as cosmetics, creams and lotions – for both human and animal use.

For starters, it’s important we get the terminology straight. What is the relationship between between marijuana, hemp and cannabis? What about THC and CBD?  

“Marijuana” and “hemp” are both common names for the plant Cannabis sativa L, which refers to the plantgenus and species.  Marijuana generally refers to the variety of the plant with characteristics that maximize the content of certain chemical compounds.  On the other hand, hemp generally refers to varieties grown to maximize fiber content that can be used in textiles, rope, paper, consumer products, and construction materials.The distinction between marijuana and hemp is based on the THC concentration of the plant. “Hemp” refers to any part of the cannabis plant with a THC concentration of .3% or less.Cannabis contains a wide variety of chemical compounds including cannabinoids.  Two well-known cannabinoids are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD.  THC has psychoactive effects in the human body, while hemp-derived CBD does not.Although scientific research on its medicinal qualities in humans is still in its infancy and far more data is needed, CBD products are frequently marketed to help with a host of medical conditions – everything from anxiety and sleeplessness, to depression and inflammation.

Why is this a regulatory challenge for the food retail industry? 

The 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law earlier this year, has caused mass confusion within the marketplace regarding hemp and CBD products.  Although the Farm Bill contains several provisions that allow for the production and commercialization of hemp and hemp-derivatives like CBD, the new law explicitly preserves FDA’s authority over the use of such ingredients in FDA-regulated products.  Furthermore, FDA’s current position is that CBD cannot be legally marketed as an ingredient in food, beverages or dietary supplements.  And while FDA enforcement to date has been limited to targeting manufacturers of CBD-containing products promoting the most egregious of health claims, such as their products’ ability to prevent cancer, the agency has no official enforcement discretion policy and could still take action against other stakeholers.  This complex regulatory landscape and lack of guidance from FDA has created significant confusion for the public, suppliers and retailers, and state regulators.

What is FMI doing about it?

Above all else, FMI is appealing to both the federal government and Congress for additional clarity on the regulatory framework for products containing CBD and other hemp-derivatives. Most recently, on May 31, FMI presented to FDA during the Agency’s daylong public hearing on this topic, using the opportunity to convey the seriousness of the regulatory ambiguity facing our member companies and their customers as consumer demand for CBD products continues to skyrocket. Given the prevalence of these products in the marketplace, we also urged FDA to move swiftly to establish a pathway forward, as our retail members need assurances that the products they merchandise are both safe and being sold appropriately. Following the hearing, FMI issued a press release, which includes a link to our comments. FMI will also submit more thorough written comments ahead of the July 2 deadline for stakeholder input. FMI will continue to help our supermarket member companies navigate this complex landscape, and we look forward to working with FDA, USDA and Congress as this process moves forward.


If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact Peter Matz,


© 2019 Arizona Hemp Industries Association (AZHIA)

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