WHAT IS the difference between THC and CBD, legally speaking? Is CBD legal on the federal level?

THERE IS a significant difference between tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). At the federal level, there are circumstances where CBD is or may be legal, whereas THC is not. It boils down to where the CBD originates, both plant-wise and geographically.

For context, THC is the part of the cannabis plant that gets you high and CBD is another part that has little or no psychoactive effect. From a medical perspective, however, CBD is very promising. Although it does nothing to improve lunch with your terrible aunt, CBD is frequently used to prevent seizures. There are studies regarding its ability to treat brain injuries, and true believers will tell you CBD cures everything from acne to AIDS. Yet even though CBD may contain miracles, it's legally problematic.

While recreational weed is now legal in Oregon, cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I narcotic under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The US government still insists marijuana is a menacing drug like heroin "with a high potential for abuse" and "potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence." CBD derived from cannabis violates federal law, period.

However, there is hemp. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) defines hemp as the parts of the cannabis plant excluded from the Controlled Substances Act, specifically the mature stalks and seeds. This dovetails from a famous 2004 court ruling right here in the Ninth Circuit. In that case, the court smacked down the DEA for attempting to regulate products containing any amount of THC, determining that "Congress did not regulate non-psychoactive hemp in Schedule I."

To legally cultivate hemp in America one must still acquire a DEA permit, which... good luck. The situation improved slightly when the 2014 federal Farm Bill defined "industrial hemp" as cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent THC by weight. The new law allows state universities and agriculture departments to grow industrial hemp for educational and research purposes, without a DEA permit. The Oregon Department of Agriculture started issuing permits, but it's been kind of a mess.

All of this leaves us in a strange place. On one hand, the DEA generally prohibits cannabis cultivation. On the other, it is legal to buy, sell, and possess processed hemp products. The result is that most hemp products in the US are imported from overseas. Those CBD-laden products are legal even in cannabis backwater states.

Finally, as if all of this weren't sufficiently convoluted, the US Food and Drug Administration recently entered the fray. That agency concluded that CBD is not a "supplement" for purposes of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and wrote some tough letters to companies marketing CBD as having medical or health benefits. You might ask: Why can't they say that CBD has health benefits? That is because cannabis is a Schedule I drug, and there are no federal funds for research on CBD.