AP: CBD buds of chocolate by Chronic Candy

CBD buds of chocolate by Chronic Candy are displayed at the Big Industry Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Aug. 31, 2018
Richard Vogel | AP

The Food and Drug Administration has set its first public hearing looking to legalize CBD in food and drinks for May 31.

The agency wants data on CBD’s safety in food products and feedback on how it might regulate manufacturing, marketing and labeling, according to a notice posted Tuesday in the Federal Register.

“The goal of the hearing is to obtain additional scientific data and other information related to cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, both from botanical and synthetic sources, to inform our regulatory oversight of these products,” the agency said Tuesday. The hearing will be at its headquarters outside of Washington, D.C.

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant that promises to relax the body without altering the mind like THC. While the federal government legalized CBD that’s derived from hemp, a close cousin of marijuana, the FDA’s rules still currently prohibit companies and restaurants from adding it to food or drinks.

Lawmakers grilled outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Capitol Hill last month, demanding the FDA figure out a way to change this. Gottlieb told them he heard Congress “loud and clear” and was working on a solution. The FDA has grappled with the issue privately and will now take its efforts public, first with the meeting.

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Plenty of start-ups have introduced CBD-infused seltzers, cookies and lattes anyway, in hopes that the FDA will change its regulations. But the regulatory uncertainty has kept larger consumer brands and retailers largely on the sidelines for now, even though demand is booming.

It’s unlawful to use an ingredient in food or drinks that’s under clinical research or is the active ingredient in a prescription drug, which CBD is. The FDA would need to figure out a way for CBD to exist both as a drug product and a food product.

Gottlieb has suggested high concentrations might be regulated as a drug that has more stringent oversight while lower concentrations could be categorized as food products that come with an easier review process. However, Gottlieb has repeatedly warned the average rule takes two to three years for the FDA to draft and finalize and the FDA may ultimately recommend Congress fix it legislatively.

Gottlieb had previously said the meeting would be in April. His last day is Friday.

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