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The History Of Cannabis Legalization In The United States

One of the most contentious ongoing political debates is the legalization of the cannabis plant. Countries worldwide are moving slowly towards decriminalizing or legalizing the use of the marijuana plant either recreationally or medically.

The story of the legalization of cannabis in the US starts as far back as the early 1900s. We've taken a look at the story so far and what is happening now with the introduction of new CBD products. We've also looked at which states now allow CBD, marijuana, and other cannabis products in 2021, and what might be next for the CBD industry.

The 17th to the 19th century

If we start right back at the beginning, the hemp plant, from which cannabis is made, was grown in huge numbers during the 17th century. The plant was produced to be turned into hemp material which was used to make rope, sails for ships, clothing, paper, and other items. In fact, the first draft of The Declaration of Independence was made using hemp paper.

While the plant was grown everywhere, cannabis wasn't used recreationally on a large scale. Hemp was so useful that it was a legal requirement at one point for all farmers to grow at least a small amount of hemp. According to the Ministry of Hemp, even George Washington grew the plant.

In the late 1800s, the hemp plant's potential medical use started to become apparent, and so cannabis extracts were made and sold in pharmacies across the US. There were very few regulations for medicines at the time, so cannabis extract could be sold for many medicinal issues, and many people started taking it recreationally. It became a fashionable drug, taken more cleanly and safely than opium, which was also popular at the time.

20th Century laws

Until the 1900s, the only law surrounding the hemp plant was that farmers had to grow it to meet rising demand. However, in the first few years of the new century, the government became aware that more and more people were drying the plant and using cannabis recreationally via medical prescriptions. The first laws surrounding cannabis were meant to control the sale of medicines and poisons.

In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug act labeled cannabis as a drug and placed it alongside other restricted substances. It was a drug that was easily accessible in most states, but a drug nonetheless. The law was tightening in 1910, meaning cannabis was only legal on a doctor's prescription. Over the following years, state after state began to ban the use of Marijuana, even going as far as stopping farmers from growing the plant. Between the year 1911, when Massachusetts first changed its law, and 1933 when North Dakota and Oklahoma banned Marijuana, 29 states passed laws regarding cannabis.

Then, in 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was enacted, effectively banning cannabis at a federal level. Extracts of the plant were permitted in some medical cases, but this was the principal law that turned the hemp plant into a prohibited substance.

changes in the 60s and 70s

Not much changed over the next few decades. Cannabis became an illegally traded drug finding its way into music festivals, parties, and the hands of people of who knew where to look. Police tried to curb its usage where they could, but cannabis never went away, despite the laws. Then, in 1969, the Marijuana Tax Act was struck down in the famous court case Leary V United States. This court case was the first of many to come.

With the Tax Act no longer applicable, the US government quickly put the Controlled Substances act into place in the 1970s, which declared cannabis a Schedule I drug, preventing all use, including medical applications. However, despite this federal law, the 70s saw several states start to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. Texas was the first state to do so in 1973, declaring four ounces or less only a misdemeanor. Oregon fully decriminalized cannabis that same year. Alaska, Maine, California, Ohio, and Colorado followed suit in 1975.

Then in 1978, New Mexico made a monumental move, recognizing the medical value of Marijuana. A year later, in 1979, Virginia changed its laws to allow cannabis to be used by doctors in some cases. Quite the opposite, throughout the 1980s, laws were adapted to increase jail time at a federal level for anyone found distributing Marijuana.

attitudes Shift in the 1990s

The 1990s opened with a new amendment to drug laws called the Solomon-Lautenberg amendment. This new law meant anyone caught on a drug offense would have their driving license taken away for at least six months in an attempt to discourage drug usage. However, the law came with a loophole which meant states could "opt out" of the law if they wanted to. The most states to have enacted the law at any one time was 19. Today, just four states continue to uphold this law; Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas.

Then, in 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis. Proposition 215 came into force on November 5th and passed with 5,382,915 votes in favor and 4,301,960 against. Arizona tried to do the same immediately after California's success, but a technicality prohibited it from doing so. In 1998, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington legalized medical marijuana, with Maine following in 1999.

A new millennium and a new dawn for cannabis

Hawaii welcomed the new millennium by legalizing medical cannabis in the year 2000, closely followed by several more states over the following years. By 2012, 19 states had legalized medical marijuana, and most other states had decriminalized it. In 2012, Washington and Colorado took significant steps and became the first states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.

Finally, in 2014 the Agricultural Act was passed. Commonly called the Farm Bill, this bill made a clear distinction between the hemp plant, otherwise known as cannabis sativa L., and marijuana. Hemp became defined as a cannabis plant with a concentration of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, lower than 0.3%. Suddenly, hemp could be grown legally and openly. Before this law came into play, even legal products such as hemp rope or hemp clothing had to be made from hemp grown abroad.

2014 was also the year in which the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment was passed. This amendment means the federal government can no longer spend money interfering with state cannabis laws.

In 2018 another farm bill made the distinction between hemp and marijuana clear under the controlled substances act. This means any plant or product made from hemp with a THC concentration lower than 0.3% is legal. Finally, THC became a controlled substance. This meant that other cannabinoids and extracts from the cannabis plant were legal and could be turned into consumer products such as CBD oil.

However, the growth of hemp is still controlled, and each state is required to have laws and processes in place for testing and checking the plants. The law is constantly changing to reflect the growing demand and need for medical and recreational cannabis. Most recently, the state of New York legalized recreational weed in March 2021 and, chances are, more states will do the same.

Hemp, CBD, THC, and cannabis today

The history of cannabis is long, convoluted, and full of twists and turns. But what really matters is where do we stand today? CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, is growing in popularity. More and more people are turning to CBD oils, gummies, and drops to help with everything from anxiety to back pain.

CBD is just one component that is found in every plant in the cannabis family, including Marijuana. However, since the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, CBD is hanging in the balance between legal and illegal. It's a major component of both medical marijuana and the hemp plant. In reality, THC, another chemical compound found in marijuana but not hemp, is responsible for the high feeling people get from smoking marijuana. It's THC which is very strictly controlled.

All 50 states have laws that allow CBD in one form or another. They vary in degree, but for practical purposes, CBD is widely available across the US. Technically, CBD derived from marijuana (not hemp) is federally controlled. However, this is rarely enforced, and marijuana-derived CBD is generally only accepted if prescribed by a doctor. Hemp-CBD is widely accepted and used medically and recreationally.

CBD in different states

Currently, 12 states allow hemp and marijuana-derived CBD to be used medically and recreationally: Washington, District of Columbia, Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts. There are 30 states which have laws allowing limited use of CBD. These states only allow marijuana-based CBD for medicinal purposes but allow hemp CBD for recreational purposes.

In addition, 28 states have regulations and restrictions in regards to CBD and what form it's in: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Finally, these states do not allow Marijuana-based CBD for any reason: Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. However, hemp-based CBD is accepted.

The only exceptions are Nebraska and Idaho, which do not allow any CBD at all unless it has a 0% THC concentration. This is pretty hard to make but, in some cases, 0% THC CBD oil is allowed for medicinal purposes. This is judged on a case-by-case basis, and doctors can't just hand out a prescription.

Marijuana and weed by state

Marijuana or weed, which contains THC in low concentration, is also legalized in some states and decriminalized in other states. Each state enforces its laws with different penalty levels. In one state, you might get a small fine; in a neighboring state, you could get a considerably larger fine. It's worth checking each state's laws before you visit to make sure you don't break any rules. We've broken down everything you need to know.

Recreational marijuana is allowed in the following states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington. New Mexico is now the most recent addition to the list, having passed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana just four days ago, in April 2021.

In addition, another 30 states have taken steps to decriminalize weed in one form or another. In these states, it is legal for medicinal reasons when prescribed by a doctor. This means only two of the 48 states do not allow any marijuana use at all. Unsurprisingly, it's the same two states which don't allow CBD oil, Nebraska and Idaho.

Other forms of cannabis

As cannabis becomes more accepted, more research is being done, and then it becomes even more accepted. It is a positive cycle that will likely see more steps towards legalization over the coming years. Of course, like any consumer market, this means more products are being developed.

As well as developing more products such as CBD oils, sweets and drinks, scientific studies are helping to uncover new compounds. A recent study discovered a cannabinoid known as Delta-8. This compound is very similar to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Like its cousin, Delta-8 gives users a feeling of being high or euphoric. However, it is less potent and has a lower chance of inducing feelings of paranoia. In states in which THC products are legal, many people prefer Delta-8 products to complete THC. In some states where THC is not permitted, people are calling for Delta-8 to be made legal instead. Most Delta-8 products are made from hemp, not marijuana.

Another newly-discovered cannabinoid getting its time to shine is CBG. CBG stands for cannabigerol, and it is yet another of the 120 compounds found in cannabis plants. Like CBD, CBG is thought to have some profound medical benefits, including anticarcinogenic properties. It is also believed to be an antidepressant and might block pain receptors, making it a suitable pain medication.

So far, the potential benefits of using CBG oil outweigh the possible side effects, which are no more harmful than those of CBD. In the states where cannabis and cannabis-derived products (hemp or marijuana) are legal, CBG is also permitted, and is growing in popularity. Other states that allow the medical use of cannabis generally categorize CBG with CBD, if they make the distinction at all.

Where do we go from here?

The overall trend suggests that cannabis and cannabis products, including CBD, CBG, Delta-8, and THC, will become more widely available. As more studies are performed, scientists generally conclude that in small regulated amounts, marijuana and other cannabis products are safe. Of course, THC, the compound which gets you high, will likely remain tightly controlled for safety reasons.

The growing of hemp and marijuana plants is still heavily regulated, meaning supply is limited. As restrictions loosen, prices for CBD and marijuana products will stabilize. The industry's current concern is making sure any imported plants or products are held to stringent quality standards.

As more products become available, it is essential to ensure that consumers get exactly what they pay for. Controlling THC, and ensuring cannabis is grown and produced ethically, are crucial. As the legal cannabis market is still in its early days, we will undoubtedly see more laws come into place in the future. Still, new regulations will likely allow it to flourish safely, with appropriate checks, rather than restrict the industry. Federal rules may well help provide clarity for consumers, as the differences between states are so profound, it can be confusing.

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