Cannabis legalization

The Evolving Legal Landscape of Cannabis

It’s an exciting time to be alive if you’re a cannabis enthusiast. Although humans have used the plant for thousands of years in a variety of ways, we’ve only just recently begun to grasp its full potential. Ongoing research continues to add merit to its many therapeutic benefits while debunking negative stigmas perpetuated by “reefer madness” era misinformation and failed drug policies, fueling a cultural shift towards acceptance at an unprecedented rate.

Underneath this cultural awakening lies the current legal state of cannabis in America, which is tricky to say the least. In the six years since its recreational use became legal in Colorado and Washington, seven more states and the nation’s capital have followed suit. While this undoubtedly suggests a growing trend towards full legalization, the disparity between state and federal cannabis laws remains substantial. The surge in popularity and production of CBD adds to this disparity, as there is still widespread confusion regarding the difference between hemp and marijuana.

Conflicting Cannabis Laws

The evidence for this confusion can be seen in the conflicting legal classifications of cannabis across the country. While some states are pushing for legalization (North Dakota and Michigan have initiatives for recreational pot on this year’s ballot (1)), others are advocating in the opposite direction. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy recently classified CBD as marijuana, only to be sold in licensed medical stores, despite it being sold recreationally in that state for years (2). This stipulation conflicts with a recent federal law which classifies the CBD drug Epidolex as a Schedule V (lowest potential for abuse) substance, to be sold legally across the US (3).

Epidolex’s Schedule V status makes it the first federally legal CBD drug. A step in the right direction for sure, but CBD in of itself remains a Schedule I substance with a higher potential for abuse than heroin or cocaine in the eyes of the federal government—a measure now more visibly absurd than ever before. The upcoming 2018 Farm Bill is set to resolve this by removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and legalizing it across the board, a measure that has been met with outspoken approval by traditionally conservative congressional leaders—including Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan (4).

Hemp Standards and the Future of Cannabis

Hemp may be on its way to being fully legal in the US, but that doesn’t rule out additional hurdles to production. By federal law, hemp must contain no more than 0.3% THC, a stringent limit that many hemp farmers say is difficult to achieve—so much so that in Colorado, a referendum was placed on the November ballot to allow for state-defined hemp standards. Additionally, there is no national standard for testing THC levels in hemp. Some states only test the flower portion, which often contains higher concentrations of THC than the rest of the plant, while others include stems and seeds, which contain lower concentrations (5).

The impending changes to cannabis laws in the US have been a long time coming. In just the few years since its legalization in Colorado, cultural attitudes—including those of lawmakers and representatives on both the state and federal level—towards its use have shifted drastically. New studies and insights continue to reveal its medicinal value while exposing the falsehoods that have been pushed by anti-pot lobbyists for decades. The rising market for CBD in particular has led to increased competition, with more producers feeling the pressure to provide a product that is superior in quality. All of these factors point to a bright future for producers and consumers alike, a sort of “Golden Age” for cannabis that we are soon to enter—or that may already be upon us.