Attention marijuana lovers: You shouldn’t light your celebratory smoke yet. However, a long-standing pot-hostile Congress seems headed towards acceptance of marijuana by more states for medical and recreational purposes. The 2018 farm bill includes language allowing farmers to grow hemp, a plant that is from the same cannabis family as marijuana but with just a trace of the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that provides the “high.” Proponents of pot legalization are hopeful that the next Congress will also move on marijuana, given Democratic control of Congress and the departure from one of the chamber’s most passionate opponents.
Stuart Titus CEO of Medical Marijuana Inc., says that “this farm bill will be a major game-changer.” He says that while hemp is different from marijuana in many ways, he believes this will be a significant step forward in securing federal approval for marijuana use. On Thursday, Michigan will be the 10th state to allow recreational marijuana use. The coasts are where all the other states have legalized marijuana. Possession of marijuana is still illegal in all 50 states and D.C. This tension has created between the state governments and the deferral as the movement gains momentum in state legislatures, and on state ballot initiatives.
Hemp is used in industrial applications such as biofuels, construction materials and other materials. Hemp oil can be used for vitamin supplements and skin care. Hemp oil can also be used to make cannabidiol (or CBD) which has more therapeutic uses. Although marijuana is rich in CBD, it also contains THC. This intoxicating substance is used to treat pain, glaucoma and muscle spasticity, as well as nausea.
The law classifies both hemp and marijuana as controlled substances. Final negotiations are underway to reconcile both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. It would allow hemp to be classified as an agricultural product and take it off the list of controlled substances. Hemp can only be grown for approved “research” purposes, and not as a product. The farm bill does not offer any relief to would-be marijuana users. Titus and others believe the agriculture bill is a first step to convince Congress to recognize marijuana as a safe and legal recreational drug and therapeutic agent.
John Hudak, Brookings Institution scholar, and author of “Marijuana : A Short History”, says that public opinion and, with it, state actions, are similar to the rapid move toward accepting same-sex marriage. Hudak stated that the support for same-sex marriage follows a similar trend over a comparable period. “It’s a wider social awakening to issues that Americans just think are victims.
Support for legalizing hemp was gained through the economic argument. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (a Republican from Kentucky, championed the provision. Hudak states that investors want to be involved in the business and that marijuana legalization presents tantalizing tax opportunities both for the states and the federal government. The changing political climate is most encouraging for pot legalization supporters. The House will be dominated by Democrats next year. However, it will not include Pete Session (R-Texas), an anti-marijuana Rep. who was defeated in midterms. Sessions, who is the chairman of House Rules Committee, blocked legislation to protect states that have legalized marijuana recreationally or medically.
Paul Armentano (deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML) said, “We are very bullish about the notion that Congress in 2019 and 2020 is in fact going to address a number of broader problems” loosening federal pot regulations. He says that anti-marijuana legislators have been “replaced by members who are far more sympathetic.” He also says that because of the importance of young voters in the success of any Democratic candidate for President in 2020, it would constitute “political malpractice” not to campaign for legalizing marijuana. Matthew Abel, an attorney at Cannabis Counsel, PLC, which is a Detroit law firm that focuses exclusively on marijuana litigation, stated, “It’s no outlier (of an problem) anymore.” Abel supports the Michigan referendum which, as of Thursday, will allow private legal use of marijuana in the Wolverine State by adults aged 21 and over. “Descheduling [the substance] as a dangerous drug has been the Holy Grail.” He says that it seems we are getting closer.