Your Guide To Cannabis Legalization By State

Your Guide To Cannabis Legalization By State

Marijuana, cannabis and hemp are three terms that are similar and often mistaken for one another, says Mackenzie Slade, the director of Cannabis Public Policy Consulting. While hemp is defined as a cannabis sativa plant that contains no more than .3% of the intoxicatingly psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by dry weight, Slade says “marijuana” and “cannabis” are used interchangeably in terms of legal status.

Both marijuana and cannabis refer to the intoxicating component of the cannabis plant commonly consumed by smoking, eating, vaping or topical application. “Cannabis is a plant of the cannabis genus whose flowers and plant material have concentrated amounts of psychoactive chemicals,” explains Slade. “Some of these psychoactive chemicals can be found in other plants; however, cannabis is the only plant that produces the psychoactive cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol (CBD).” Meanwhile, hemp doesn’t contain high levels of intoxicating compounds.

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Cannabis legalization is a hot topic. While federal laws surrounding the legality of cannabis exist, additional bills regarding its legal status have been debated in the House and Senate as recently as April 2022 with the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. Additionally, state legislatures have their own laws on cannabis production, sale and use, adding another layer of complication to its legal status.

Federal Regulations

Marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substance Act, which went into effect in 1970. “It’s not only illicit, but also deemed to have abuse potential and no medical benefits,” says Slade. She adds that with this scheduling status, cannabis is subjected to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as well as Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforcement under the Controlled Substance Act. “It’s federally illicit to use cannabis for adult use or medicinal purposes, with the exception of one prescription drug, Epidiolex,” she says, adding that this drug, which is used to treat seizure disorders, contains CBD, not THC.

On a federal level, marijuana’s legal status hasn’t changed since the 1970s, but there are a couple of ways the federal laws have evolved. The 2013 Cole Memorandum provided guidance for the priorities of marijuana-related federal investigation and prosecution. “The Cole Memo essentially outlined guidelines and priorities for state-regulated cannabis programs to remain within, including prohibiting sales across state lines, prohibiting sales to minors and implementing tracking systems that prevent divergence,” says Slade.

Next, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which was passed by the House in April 2022, proposed descheduling marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act. It also includes expungement of prior convictions related to marijuana. As of May 2022, this bill is with the Senate, though it’s not expected to pass because only three Republican representatives support it.

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