Is CBD oil legal in Iowa?
No, cannabidiol (CBD) oil is not legal for purchase or possession except for patients who qualify for Iowa’s medical marijuana program. CBD products are available in five state-licensed dispensaries.
In late 2018, U.S. Congress passed the Farm Bill, an act which redefined hemp as an agricultural commodity and removed CBD and hemp products from the controlled substances list. This law is a promising step towards federal legalization, but left many confused about CBD’s legality at the state level.
Consumers are confronted with a legal limbo where CBD is federally legal, but outlawed in Iowa until the state’s hemp plan is approved by the federal government. Iowa regulators passed SF 599, the Iowa Hemp Act, which was signed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in May 2019. Yet state law still classifies CBD as a controlled substance. Further, the existence of Iowa’s medical cannabis program complicates many Iowans’ understanding of what is or isn’t allowed.
What is CBD?
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is the second-most-abundant molecule in cannabis after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). A non-intoxicating compound, CBD shows evidence of therapeutic potential in fighting inflammation, reducing anxiety, suppressing seizures and relieving pain. CBD can be derived from either hemp or marijuana plants.
To meet federal legal criteria, CBD oil must contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Why is CBD sometimes illegal?
In 1970, the Federal Controlled Substances Act categorizes all cannabis, including industrial hemp, as a Schedule 1 narcotic, which deemed cannabis as a substance with no accepted medical use and a high potential for addiction and abuse.
Decades later, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, legalizing hemp cultivation and hemp-derived CBD products. The Farm Bill defined hemp and marijuana using a THC content threshold: hemp contains 0.3% THC by weight; marijuana has more than 0.3% THC. This distinction removed hemp-derived CBD from its Schedule 1 classification, though CBD extracted from marijuana is still federally illegal. The Farm Bill also classified hemp as an agricultural commodity and instructed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to draft regulations and oversee hemp’s production and sale.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was also tasked with regulating the labeling of CBD products, therapeutic claims, and whether CBD is permitted in any food or beverage product. In early 2019, the FDA stated that no food or beverage products or products marketed as a dietary supplement could contain CBD. While the FDA has begun re-evaluating this stance, it hasn’t issued official rules.
The FDA hasn’t moved swiftly to draft national regulations. Meanwhile, individual states are interpreting the Farm Bill. The FDA has upheld strict standards when product labels make medical claims.
The Farm Bill empowers individual states to issue their own regulations alongside national law, up to and including CBD’s total prohibition. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The Farm Bill also empowers individual states to issue their own regulations alongside national law, up to and including CBD’s total prohibition. Iowa, in particular, has stated that it will wait for U.S. approval of any state-drafted hemp rules before it adopts the new legal definition of CBD.
Iowa CBD laws
In 2014, the Iowa legislature passed SF 2360, known as the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Act, to allow individuals diagnosed with intractable epilepsy to use CBD products with 3% or less THC by weight. However, Iowa patients had no means of purchasing their medicine within the state.
In 2017, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law a newer version of the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Act. HF 524 expanded qualifying conditions for patients and tasked the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) with creating a regulatory framework for CBD manufacturing and sales. As of December 2018, patients with a medical cannabidiol registration card could legally purchase CBD products at one of five licensed dispensaries in Iowa.
Iowa has yet to redefine CBD to meet the federal definition put forth by the 2018 Farm Bill. By signing the 2019 Iowa Hemp Act, Reynolds tasked the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) with drafting an industrial hemp program to be approved by the USDA. Once approved, the IDALS will oversee the regulation of hemp and CBD products in Iowa.
Until then, CBD products remain illegal in Iowa. In July 2019, Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller issued a statement reminding the public that CBD products are still illegal unless the products are grown, sold, and possessed in participation with the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol program. CBD is still a Schedule 1 substance, excepting the four FDA-approved CBD products such as Epidiolex.
Licensing requirements for CBD
The IDALS is currently drafting proposed regulations for an Iowa hemp program, to be approved by the USDA before enactment.
New formulations of CBD allow the cannabinoid to be used in a variety of ways. Photo by: (Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)
The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Program has licensed one manufacturer, MedPharm Iowa, to produce CBD products for registered patients to purchase at one of five licensed dispensaries: MedPharm Iowa was offered dispensary licenses for Sioux City and Windsor Heights. Have a Heart Compassion Care was authorized for Council Bluffs and Davenport, and Iowa Cannabis Company operates in Waterloo. Dispensaries began selling medical cannabis products to registered patients in December 2018.
The IDPH currently is not accepting new applications for manufacturing or dispensary licenses.
There are currently no requirements for CBD lab testing outside of the medical cannabidiol program, as the cultivation and sale of any CBD products other than licensed by the IDPH is illegal.
State law requires laboratories to establish and implement test methods and standard operating procedures for the testing of cannabinoids, microbiological impurities, pesticides, residual solvents and processing chemicals, and metals. All testing labs must, at a minimum, test for and report measurements for the following cannabinoids: THC, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), CBD, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabinol (CBN).
Only five dispensaries licensed by the IDPH can sell medical cannabidiol products to patients with a valid registration card.
The unlicensed sale of CBD or of any cannabis product is punishable by law with tiered penalties depending on the severity of the offense. The sale of less than 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds, is a felony punished by five years in prison and a $7,500 fine; 50-100 kilograms, or 110-220 pounds is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. The sale of 100-1,000 kilograms, or 220-2,205 pounds, is punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. The sale of any amount more than 1,000 kilograms, or 1.1 tons, can earn up to 50 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
CBD oil usually comes with a dropper to allow consumers and patients to measure out their dose. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The sale of cannabis involving a minor, or within 1,000 feet of a school or other public place, can incur a sentence between five to 25 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines.
The home cultivation of any kind of cannabis is illegal in Iowa. Cultivation without a license is punished by the same violation tiers as the illegal sale of cannabis.
Iowa CBD possession limits
The possession of CBD is legal only for medical marijuana patients with a qualifying medical condition and valid medical cannabidiol program registration card. The CBD product must be purchased from a licensed Iowa dispensary and contain less than 0.3% THC. CBD products may be taken only orally or transdermally, and smoking or vaporizing CBD are prohibited.
Illegal possession of any amount of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by tiers of incarceration and fines depending on initial or subsequent offenses. A first offense carries a sentence of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A second offense is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,875 fine, and a third offense scales up to two years of jail time and a $6,250 fine.
How to read CBD labels and packaging
Only medical CBD is legal in Iowa, which has issued extensive labeling requirements for the products. In addition to detailed rules about tamper-resistant packaging, the state requires labels that list the name and address of the manufacturer where the medical cannabidiol was manufactured; the medical cannabidiol’s primary active ingredients; directions for use, including recommended and maximum amount by age and weight; date of expiration; and storage instructions.
Iraq War veteran leading the way in production of CBD oil from Iowa-grown hemp
Mat Miller is leading the way and he’s happy to do it.
“I’m the only guy. It’s been almost a year, and there’s nobody else doing this in Iowa,” said Miller, a longtime Ames resident and Boone High grad.
Miller, an Iowa native and Iraq War veteran, owns the Ames-based company, ICanna, and is the only certified organic processor of CBD in Iowa and his company was among the first licensed CBD processors in the state, and he’s proud to distill cannabidiol from Iowa-grown hemp.
CBD is a chemical found in marijuana but doesn’t contain THC, the ingredient found in marijuana that produces a high. CBD can be formulated as an oil, but also sold as an extract, a vaporized liquid and an oil-based capsule.
And in many parts of the country, it is big business.
“Right now, everything is handmade,” Miller said. “We take the hemp biomass, we clean it and sort it out. The way the hemp is farmed now is small scale one- or two-acre plots. It’s all hand harvested.”
Then the farmer hang-dries the plants in a barn, similar to tobacco. The farmer pulls the flowers off the plants — and don’t call them “buds” because that’s a term closely related to marijuana.
The bagged flowers are brought to ICanna, where it’s reduced in size with a food processor.
“Then we extract the CBD oil through a unique ethanol extraction process,” Miller said. “Ethanol extraction of plant extracts is pretty common, but we use a special parameter of alcohol extraction. Our process results in really high CBD yields without a lot of other byproducts.
“That helps us on the post-processing side so that we don’t have to treat it with a bunch of harsh chemicals and solvents. And that stays true to the USDA organic portion.”
It’s a one-step extraction process that leads to a product that’s about 75% CBD. After a color-correcting stage, Miller is able to use the CBD to create retail products.
ICanna is looking to partner with more retail shops
ICanna makes full-spectrum CBD oil and balm, which are available on the company’s website and at retail locations, such as Life Distilled on Ames’ Main Street, Salon Bonita in north Ames, Touch Therapy, a licensed massage therapist in Boone, and City Meat Market, a country store in New Albi, near one of ICanna’s growers.
It’s pretty simple to get a retail license in the state of Iowa, Miller said.
Miller officially started his LLC in September of 2021 after receiving its CBD processing license and began processing in March of that year.
“Hemp was legally allowed to be grown across the country in 2018,” Miller said. “So that’s really when the CBD industry started to expand.”
A few states were involved in a federal pilot program and were allowed to legally grow hemp in 2014, so things got started in states like Kentucky and Colorado earlier, he explained.
In 2018, the USDA allowed states to grow hemp but required each state to submit a plan to get approved to grow.
“Iowa took about a year to get set up, so no one in the state was allowed to grow until the 2020 growing season,” Miller said. “But there was still a legal gray area as to whether CBD products were going to be legal” because of U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules.
Before he was licensed, Miller worked with the state of Iowa to begin planning his west Ames facility, making sure everything would be built according to state regulations so he could be ready to go as soon as the licensing was approved.
Miller also got an organic certification from the Iowa Department of Agriculture. He contracts with organic farmers in Iowa, like a longtime organic farmer, French Creek Organic Farm, near Lansing.
French Creek is a fifth-generation family farm owned by Andy Leppert. It has been farmed organically since the late ’70s when Andy’s father realized the benefits of organic farming to the soil and the environment, Miller said.
From a one-acre plot, French Creek produced 1,800 pounds of hemp flowers, which the farmer delivered in about six huge bags. The flowers in each bag will produce about 7,000 bottles each containing 1,000 milligrams of CBD oil. ICanna contracted with the farmer for $16 per pound of hemp flowers – a payday of nearly $29,000 per acre.
Those are impressive numbers, but it’s not necessarily that lucrative for all farmers, Miller said.
“That’s more than most farmers make selling hemp,” he said. “And it’s an expensive industry to get into. One seed can cost $1.”
Miller’s tour of duty in Iraq led him to see the merits of CBD
There was a time in Iowa’s history, before the prohibition of cannabis of all kinds early in the 1900s, when hemp was a common crop.
“They used to use hemp for clothing and ropes,” Miller said. “The military used it for canvas. It was used for paper. Cannabis in general has an interesting history, and some of its prohibition was based on racism and some of it was based on corporate competition with cotton and other industries.”
Miller returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq in 2009 and, like many veterans, found that adjusting to civilian life wasn’t easy.
He served in the Army with the Iowa National Guard, stationed in Boone for about five years and Waterloo for four years. He was in the aviation unit and served in a medivac unit.
Although he doesn’t make any medical claims about his products, Miller experienced relief from CBD products. He also heard anecdotes about other people who were getting relief from CBD for post-traumatic stress, physical trauma and pain.
“Thankfully, I didn’t struggle a lot and I found relief pretty easily, but it’s what opened my eyes to the industry and seeing the potential here,” Miller said.