Is CBD Legal On College Campuses?

Is CBD Legal On College Campuses?

With CBD finally being federally legal, lots of college students may wonder if CBD is legal on college campuses. Learn how campuses approach the question.

Finally, CBD is federally legal and easily accessible with so many CBD companies popping up across the US. CBD is now commonly found in stores, at farmer’s markets, and all over the web – so that must mean its legality is unquestionable, right?


The great thing about our legal system is that laws can be amended, changed, and rewritten. But the downside is that unless that happens, archaic and incorrect laws will continue to govern how we operate in our daily lives, from how we work to what is and isn’t allowed on college campuses. And unfortunately, that includes CBD.

So, is CBD legal on college campuses? The answer is confusing.

And it’s complicated.

CBD Laws

CBD laws have a convoluted history, from marijuana criminalization in 1937 to the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized industrial hemp, and the rules surrounding CBD are still a bit murky. Even if THC is legal in the state, such as Colorado or California, that doesn’t necessarily mean it or CBD will be legal on their college campuses.


Because rather than trying to note the differences between many CBD products so as to conform with federal laws, universities have opted to outlaw all forms of cannabis and hemp.

For example Pepperdine University in California, a small school that forbids students from using CBD in any form. Consequences range from fines to expulsion, whether they used the CBD on campus or not. Like so many other schools, Pepperdine University receives federal funding, which means they have to comply with federal guidelines or risk losing it.

Without a drug and alcohol program in place for both students and employees, schools wouldn’t receive funding for student work-study programs, campus upgrades, or scientific research. So, rather than guessing at the different types of THC and CBD products and listing them out in detail, universities play it safe by banning all forms of cannabis.

To understand why to let’s run through a brief timeline of the laws governing cannabis use on campus.

1970: The Controlled Substances Act

When the Controlled Substances Act was passed, marijuana and hemp were both listed as Schedule I drugs (the same category that includes heroin). This act was one of the driving forces that stunted the growth of the industrial hemp industry.

1989: The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments (DFSCA)

The DFSCA was passed in 1989 as a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which requires universities to implement a drug and alcohol abuse prevention program for students and employees in order to receive federal funding. As a condition of the DFSCA, institutions are required to make sure education resources, programs, and policies are readily available for everyone on campus.

The Office of Federal Student Aid has enforced the DFSCA ruling since 2010. All schools that want or require federal funding must distribute a comprehensive policy in accordance with DFSCA, which is signed by the college and university presidents to affirm that they have a prevention program in place. If they do not have one or don’t sign it, they risk losing funding.

From November 2014 to September 2018, the Education Department fined 36 institutions a total of $739,000 for DFSCA violations. That being said, there aren’t many stories of universities punishing employees or students for exclusively using CBD; rather, CBD gets lumped in with Schedule I drugs per the Controlled Substances Act.

Or at least it was until 2018.

2018: The Farm Bill

Title X of the 2018 Farm Bill formalized the distinction between hemp and other cannabis products. This allowed for both the production of US-grown hemp and the purchase of products containing hemp, such as CBD – so long as it contained less than the legal limit of THC. For the first time, thanks to this bill, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) recognized the differentiation between hemp, marijuana, and other cannabis products.

However, the FDA is still working to regulate the production of CBD products, as those currently on the market don’t always contain what they say they do. Unfortunately, CBD laws require a certain amount of finesse in their focus and wording, meaning they take time, and will likely change over time.

This is not only because so many cannabinoids can be taken from the Cannabis sativa plant, but thanks to their fluctuating nature, one cannabinoid can easily be morphed into another in the lab.


dropper going into tincture bottle with cannabis in shopping cart while usa flag is in the background


Is CBD Legal?

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD is now legal across the US. That being said, college campus policies concerning CBD aren’t as cut and dried. As we mentioned above, this complication is mainly due to the DFSCA ruling which makes no distinction between marijuana, hemp, CBD, or any other form of cannabis.

With opinions concerning CBD rapidly changing and growing, students have become more vocal about their college policies by speaking out in favor of separating the discussions of CBD and marijuana. Unfortunately, these talks are not likely to solidify until CBD production becomes federally regulated because without certified laboratory analysis, there’s no way to know what exactly is in your CBD.

That Depends on How It’s Made

Despite what the label may claim, not all CBD products contain what they say they do – some may even contain additional ingredients, such as THC. This is because in spite of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD production remains federally unregulated, meaning companies have some wiggle room when it comes to their CBD oil formulas.

CBD oil and similar hemp-derived products are federally legal when they contain less than 0.3 percent THC.

However, CBD oil is often made using a combination of cannabinoids, and if a company does not provide a Certificate of Analysis for each and every batch of CBD it produces, then there’s no way you can be confident in what you’re buying.

While CBD is legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD products that contain THC above the federal limit are not.


college students sitting on lawn in front of building


The College Policies

Unlike public universities, private institutions don’t depend on federal funding or grants, meaning they don’t have to abide by the DFSCA or other CBD laws. Despite that fact, many universities, including Harvard, still ban the use of any and all forms of CBD by not solidifying the distinction between CBD and THC (marijuana).

Many college policies actually don’t distinguish between CBD and THC, so when it comes to following federal regulations such as the DFSCA (which also does not make the distinction), universities tend to err on the side of caution.

So what does the university risk? If found incompliant or in violation of federal regulations, schools could be fined, have their federal funding suspended or terminated, be prohibited from applying for future grants, or even be forced to pay back prior federal funding.

Like Harvard University, Ithaca College in New York also prohibits any use of marijuana, even though medical marijuana was legalized in the state. And like so many other universities, while Ithaca College’s policy doesn’t explicitly mention CBD, the DFSCA does. So rather than risk federal regulations, they group CBD and other cannabinoids together.

The University of California’s official statement on the possession of marijuana prohibits the use of marijuana on campus grounds, despite its legality in the state of California, and does not mention any sort of distinction between marijuana, hemp, and CBD.

Unsurprisingly, Colorado State University is one of the very few institutions that make the distinction between marijuana, hemp, and CBD. That being said, even Colorado State makes a distinction between hemp legally grown in Colorado, which is permitted on campus, and hemp grown elsewhere, which is not permitted on campus. Despite the fact that it can be increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two.

Students Are Speaking Out

On October 9, 2019, Emerson College’s student newspaper, The Berkeley Beacon, published an article titled, “Separate the College’s Policies on CBD and THC.” In it, the students claimed that their current school policies did not distinguish between CBD and THC, and therefore prohibited a substance that was legal in Massachusetts for those aged 21 and over.

Despite this plea on the part of the students, Emerson College has yet to make a distinction between CBD and THC in their alcohol and drug policy.

With so many students speaking out about their legal use of cannabis on college campuses, we may see a change to the marijuana and CBD laws within the next few years, if not the next decade. Or at the very least, we should begin to see a distinction between marijuana, hemp, and CBD laws. As research continues and CBD laws progress, guidelines on college campuses will gradually change.

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