Published on January 31, 2022 by Kristina Willis
In many ways, 2021 was a breakthrough year for cannabis. Public acceptance reached an all-time high, and five states passed legislation allowing adult use. However, though the progressive cannabis agenda has made significant strides over the past decade, plenty of work remains to be done.
Going into 2022, changes to official policy are among the most important resolutions for the cannabis industry. Adjusting federal and state laws to accommodate and support continued cannabis research is essential for boosting our understanding of the beneficial properties, adverse side effects, and the extent of its medicinal capabilities.
Here are five ways policymakers can pave the way for noteworthy cannabis advancements in 2022.
Perhaps the most significant barrier to progressive cannabis agendas has been limited supplies of approved cannabis for conducting vital research. Since 1968, researchers have been restricted to a single domestic cannabis source through a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). However, in 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) approved several additional American companies to grow cannabis for research purposes, significantly bolstering the supply line.
While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, gaining approval for clinical trials is still cumbersome, excessively complicated, and an overall painstaking experience. Simplifying or streamlining application processes would significantly improve the quantity and quality of clinical trials utilizing cannabis.
When it comes to big picture legislature, nothing serves as a greater barrier than cannabis’s classification as a Schedule I drug.
As stated by the DEA:
“Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.”
Considering that cannabis has numerous medical uses, including an FDA-approved drug for seizures called Epidiolex, cannabis’s classification as a Schedule I drug is a legal absurdity. Moreover, there are no grounds to suggest that cannabis poses as much harm to society as heroin, ecstasy, or other Schedule I drugs. Eliminating the strict and inaccurate classification is the first step to opening up federal legalization and decriminalization laws.
Following cannabis laws can be challenging when federal and state legislation are at odds. For example, college students in states where cannabis is legal are being punished for using medicinal cannabis on college campuses despite pre-existing permission. Additionally, what is or is not permitted can vary drastically depending on where someone lives. It becomes even more confusing when considering the broad range of marijuana and hemp products and how differently they are approached from a legal standpoint, particularly in regards to their THC content.
Even law enforcers struggle to adhere to any standard, as there simply isn’t one a lot of the time. Cannabis seized during an arrest may be cataloged by weight or by units. And most of the time, THC content is not adequately accounted for. In addition, certain products, like Delta-8, exist in a legal gray area, making it difficult for users to make informed decisions about the products they choose to consume. Categorizing and providing a clear distinction between cannabis products and what is or is not legal is essential for creating a safe and properly regulated market.
Decriminalization is one of the hottest legal topics, and for a good reason. Most drug arrests are for non-violent offenses, with marijuana accounting for just under half. As a result, prisons are overflowing with non-violent marijuana users serving unnecessarily lengthy sentences for mere possession—all thanks to excessive mandatory minimums for drug offenses.
Certain states have pushed hard for marijuana decriminalization, enacting progressive legislature, such as the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) signed into law on March 31, 2021, by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. MRTA allows personal possession of marijuana up to 3 ounces and opens up expungement of criminal records for low-level convictions, among other measures aimed at reducing cannabis-related punishment.
The good news is that Congressional Democrats are eyeing measures for decriminalizing marijuana as early as spring 2022. Proposed initiatives include purging the criminal records of thousands of marijuana offenders.
One of the most baffling aspects of federal cannabis policies is how far removed they are from public sentiment. Less than 10% of U.S. adults believe that marijuana should not be legal in any capacity, and a recent Gallup poll revealed that 68% support complete legalization. And for the most part, legalizing marijuana is a bipartisan issue, yet the proposed legislation to date has failed to make it through both the House and Senate.
On the other hand, state law has been much more accommodating of growing cannabis acceptance. In 2021, New Mexico, New Jersey, Virginia, and Connecticut passed recreational cannabis laws. Looking forward, advocates can expect Delaware, Oklahoma, Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi, and Rhode Island to follow suit in 2022. Still, the speed at which cannabis laws are being updated is disappointing, considering that a vast majority of the public supports some form of legalization regardless of political affiliation.
All things considered, perhaps the most critical item on the agenda is employing sufficient counter-active measures for potential issues induced by new, more accommodating laws. As legalization increases prevalence and availability, we must consider the negative consequences. Maximizing cannabis benefits entails controlling the drawbacks and minimizing their influence. To that end, public service announcements and awareness campaigns take center stage in ensuring public safety, especially for youth.
► Current data suggests that MLs do not lead to higher teen use; however, it is also likely that we have yet to see the full impact of legalization on underaged persons. Moreover, anecdotal accounts from law enforcement cite increased marijuana use among youth as an evident concern.► A review of data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) found no significant association between MMLs and marijuana-involved driving from 1993–2014. However, it did discover a 14% increase in states with dispensaries, and more recent studies reported increased motor vehicle accidents and fatalities.► Legally, cannabis products cannot be explicitly marketed toward children. However, that does not stop retailers from selling edibles and vape products in forms that are attractive to youth. Moreover, accidental consumption has increased, with children even unknowingly distributing medical marijuana gummies at school.