Marijuana, Cannabis, and the Green Rush

I’m taking another break this week from the super serious to write about something more lighthearted that I’m sure many people are curious about. Marijuana, cannabis, pot, weed, ganja, herb… it goes by many names, and it can be a tricky topic to navigate. Many legal changes are recent, and state laws differ from federal laws. I’ll do my best to go into the legal status of Cannabis so you can understand what is and is not allowed.

First, I’ll define a couple terms. Cannabis is a genus within the Cannabaceae family of plants. There are many different species, with indica and sativa being the most common. The two compounds of interest from these plants are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is psychoactive, while CBD has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. Marijuana, referring to the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant can be indica or sativa and largely contains THC. Hemp, on the other hand, is a sativa variety that contains high amounts of CBD and is typically used for industrial purposes.

The difference between the two doesn’t make a difference when it comes to federal law, which considers the plant in its entirety. Cannabis was first made illegal indirectly through the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This was struck down in 1969 and replaced with the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. This piece of legislation groups drugs according to “Schedules” that classify how it may be used. Under this, cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Other Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote.

Now, the differences between THC and CBD do matter when it comes to state law. Cannabis has been a hot topic and many states have passed laws making it legal in various forms. Only four states have no marijuana access: Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

12 states, including Wisconsin and Kentucky, have limited medical use allowing CBD, but not THC. These uses may be limited, and it does not mean that cultivation or production are allowed. An additional 34 states, including Ohio and Utah, have comprehensive medical marijuana programs that provide accessibility and protection from criminal penalties for its use. These include THC in addition to CBD.

Just ten states and Washington D.C. allow non-medical adult use of cannabis, and even fewer allow commercial cultivation and production. If you’d like to know more about the laws in your specific state, this is a good resource to start, as are the other embedded links.

It’s clear from looking at this topic that federal law conflicts with most state laws. What does this mean for you, the general population? As usual there’s not a clear answer. Depending on your job and the license you need to perform it, you can be drug-tested and held to drug-free policies. Keep in mind though that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has prioritized the opioid crisis as more urgent than marijuana prosecutions. 

It does seem to mean that the federal government is staying out of the way on this issue, however it doesn’t mean that there won’t be people or businesses caught in the cross-hairs. No banks have been prosecuted for processing marijuana transactions, and the Attorney General has indicated support for federal reform. Cannabis use is at a common-sense stage. If you see or hear it out in the open, it’s probably fine and not an enforcement priority. If not, it might be worth checking into.

It is worth noting that the 2018 Farm Bill has legalized hemp at the federal level (with restrictions of course). It’s not full cannabis legalization, but it’s a step toward a consistent and unified policy. There are bills in the House and Senate that seek to reform federal enforcement, but they have not passed as of yet. If you’d like to see more of that to reduce confusion if nothing else, write to your state senators and representatives.

Phew! This one was a lot of research, and it’s still a hazy topic. Until next time!

Image by: Matthew Brodeur

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