cbd topicals californiaI’ve written quite a bit on the legality of hemp-derived cannabidiol (“Hemp CDB”) products in California over the past few months (see my posts on Hemp CBD in general and my specific posts about Hemp CBD in foods and hemp cultivation). One of the areas I haven’t explored in great detail is topical products, i.e., cosmetics. I will address the murky status of Hemp CBD cosmetics in this post.

If you haven’t read my earlier posts, the gist is that the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) has taken a fairly hardline stance against adding Hemp CBD to foods and beverages via its now-infamous FAQs. These FAQs, notably, are based on federal law (the Controlled Substances Act which has since been amended so that hemp is no longer scheduled), but also on the federal Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA”) prohibition on CBD in similar products (which definitely is still the FDA’s current position). Notably, the FAQs are silent on cosmetics and topical products.

While a bit less clear from the FAQs’ text, the CDPH has authority over certain products pursuant to the California Sherman Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Law (not to be confused with the federal Sherman Act). The CA Sherman Law gives the CDPH authority over foods and beverages, but notably also over cosmetics, which are defined as:

[A]ny article, or its components, intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to, the human body, or any part of the human body, for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance. The term “cosmetic” does not include soap.

Under this law, the CDPH could theoretically initiate enforcement actions or assess penalties against companies who sell adulterated or misbranded cosmetics. But until now, the CDPH hasn’t been extremely vocal about cosmetics in California—as is evident by reading the FAQs which don’t even mention them. We aren’t aware of any explicit enforcement actions against Hemp CBD topicals. So while the CDPH hasn’t said Hemp CBD topicals are prohibited, it hasn’t necessarily ruled that out.

Adding to the lack of confusion is the federal position, which my colleague, Daniel Shortt, recently discussed. In a nutshell, the FDA may view a cosmetic product as prohibited if its ingredients or the product itself is unsafe, or if it is intended to be used in a way that makes it a “drug” (i.e., it is “intended to affect the structure or function of the body, or to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent disease”). In other words, the FDA hasn’t taken as hardline of a stance against cosmetics as it has against foods and unapproved drugs, but we still have a sense of the FDA’s willingness to crack down on products that aren’t safe or that make medical claims.

In spite of the general confusion in California and with the FDA’s policy statement, at least some clarity may soon be taken away if a new piece of California legislation, AB-228, is passed. If passed in its current form, AB-228 would state:

A cosmetic is not adulterated because it includes industrial hemp . . . or cannabinoids, extracts, or derivatives from industrial hemp. The sale of cosmetics that include industrial hemp or cannabinoids, extracts, or derivatives from industrial hemp shall not be restricted or prohibited based solely on the inclusion of industrial hemp or cannabinoids, extracts, or derivatives from industrial hemp.

What this would mean is that if passed, CDPH could not use the CA Sherman Law to find that CBD-containing topicals adulterated simply by virtue of containing Hemp CBD (the same would also apply to foods). This may lead to more clarity for California CBD companies who have topical products.

That said, it’s not yet clear whether the CDPH would continue to follow federal law even in spite of AB-228 passing. The state may find itself in a position of ignoring federal positions (like it has done with marijuana), or the CDPH may continue to follow federal agencies. Even the California Attorney General’s office has recognized that this could happen:

Even if it [AB-228 passes], it is not clear whether changing California law on this adulteration issue would be sufficient to alter the decision calculus of the CDPH, which has to this point relied on the FDA’s interpretation of federal law. That is, it might be the conclusion of these agencies that federal law still prohibits adding CBD to food or dietary supplements, even where derived from industrial hemp.

Though this is just speculation, I don’t think that the CDPH will follow the FDA if AB-228 passes. The FDA’s policy guidelines are so broadly written that they would prohibit the introduction of marijuana into food products in California—yet we don’t see any state agencies pulling those products. This includes products that are manufactured by CDPH licensees.

It’s also important to point out that even if AB-228 passes, the CDPH will be able to find Hemp CBD cosmetic products “misbranded”. However, this is also probably less likely to occur except in cases where products make unsubstantiated or false claims or are advertised in a deceptive manner. This may very well happen for some Hemp CBD products, which is why it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney prior to marketing or advertising new products.

In sum, the current state of topical Hemp CBD laws in California is less than clear (which at this point should surprise nobody). Keep following the Canna Law Blog to keep up with all California CBD updates.