2023 Cannabis Policy Highlighted Reflecting on the Evolution of Cannabis Policy in 2023

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By Ronald Tech

The Expansion of Cannabis Legalization

DelawareMinnesota, and Ohio enacted laws in 2023 legalizing adult-use marijuana possession and providing timelines for regulating retail cannabis markets. In addition, Maryland lawmakers passed legislation in May regulating adult-use marijuana sales. Those sales began on July 1st. In January, lawmakers in the US Virgin Islands also approved an adult-use legalization law, though its provisions have yet to take effect.

“For the first time since the adoption of federal marijuana prohibition, more US citizens reside in jurisdictions where cannabis is state-legal than live somewhere where it is not,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said.

Shifting Federal Classification

Bloomberg News reported in August that it had obtained a leaked letter from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommending that the US Drug Enforcement Administration reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance under federal law. The Biden Administration initiated the review last year.

The DEA, which has the final authority regarding drug scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act, has yet to publicly take any action on the matter.

NORML has criticized proposals calling for cannabis to be rescheduled from Schedule I to Schedule III, opining, “Rescheduling marijuana fails to provide states with the explicit legal authority to regulate it within their borders as they see fit, free from federal interference.” Rather, NORML calls for removing cannabis from the CSA altogether in a manner similar to alcohol.

Public Opinion and Support

A record 70 percent of US adults believe that “the use of marijuana should be legal,” according to nationwide polling data released in November by Gallup. That’s an increase of 19 percentage points since 2014, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to implement adult-use cannabis legalization, and the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup pollsters.

“There’s no ‘buyers’ remorse’ among the public when it comes to legalizing cannabis,” said NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox. “As more states have adopted legalization, public support for this policy has risen dramatically. That’s because these policies are largely working as intended and because voters prefer legalization and regulation over the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”

Other polling conducted by Gallup in 2023 determined that most US adults believethat marijuana use poses fewer risks to health than does either the use of alcohol or cigarettes, and that half of all Americans ages 18 and older have tried cannabis.

Workplace Protections

Michigan and Washington adopted legislation in 2023 halting public employers from engaging in pre-employment marijuana testing for those applying to non-safety-sensitive positions. Several otherstates and municipalities have adopted similar measures.

It is evident that the tides are turning in favor of cannabis, as state after state contributes to the legalization wave, impacting federal policies and public perceptions. The landscape is evolving, and the future potential of the cannabis industry is looking increasingly promising, with significant grounds gained in 2023 in reshaping the regulatory and societal framework around marijuana.

Changing Legal Landscape for Marijuana in 2023

The Evolving Cannabis Legalization Saga in 2023

The cannabis industry in the United States has been an ever-changing tapestry in recent years. With shifting regulatory policies and legal precedents, 2023 showcased several key landmark developments that collectively led to a transformation in the legal landscape surrounding marijuana.

Broader Workplace Protection Laws in Rhode Island

The enactment of broader workplace protection laws in Rhode Island has marked a significant milestone in the ongoing evolution of cannabis regulations. This move limits employers’ ability to test for marijuana metabolites on the job and sanction employees for off-duty cannabis consumption, reflecting the changing cultural and legal landscape surrounding cannabis.

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Federal Courts Reject Second Amendment Ban for Marijuana Consumers

In 2023, judges with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 1968 federal law prohibiting the possession or sale of a firearm to an “unlawful user” of a controlled substance should not be applied so broadly as to criminalize all gun owners with a history of marijuana use. This sweeping decision echoed previous rulings, underscoring the growing recognition of the rights of marijuana consumers.

Marijuana Arrests Fall to 30-Year Low

The year 2023 witnessed a pivotal moment as state and local police reported the lowest number of marijuana-related arrests in decades. This significant decline in arrests, not seen since the early 1990s, serves as a poignant reflection on the changing societal attitudes and legislative reforms surrounding cannabis.

POTUS Issues Pardon Proclamation for Those with Marijuana-Related Convictions

In a move that resonated deeply within the cannabis community, President Joe Biden issued a directive expanding the pool of marijuana offenders eligible for federal pardons. This proclamation marked a significant step towards rectifying the social and legal injustices stemming from outdated marijuana policies.

Teen Marijuana Use Remains Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

Resiliently defying stereotypes and misconceptions, federally funded surveys revealed that rates of teens’ marijuana use remained below pre-pandemic levels and near historic lows. These findings helped dispel unfounded fears and added a nuanced perspective to the discourse surrounding cannabis legalization.

FDA Fails to Establish Rules for Hemp-Derived Cannabis Products

Notably, representatives of the US Food and Drug Administration announced their decision to abandon efforts to craft regulations for the production and sale of hemp-derived products containing high levels of CBD and other cannabinoids. This development served as a sobering reminder of the regulatory uncertainties surrounding cannabis derivatives in 2023.

Latest Developments in the Cannabis Industry

Positive Strides in the Cannabis Industry as FDA Delays Regulation on Hemp-Derived CBD Products

After five years of scrutiny, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refrained from enacting rules to govern hemp-derived cannabinoid products. The regulatory body conceded that its current guidelines for foods and dietary supplements fall short in addressing the complexities of these items.

Industry Advocacy and Quality Concerns

Various organizations, led by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), have persistently lobbied for regulatory standards concerning the production, testing, labeling, and marketing of hemp-derived cannabinoid products. Extensive analyses have unequivocally highlighted the inconsistent quality and potency, as well as the potential presence of contaminants, adulterants, and elevated levels of heavy metals in over-the-counter CBD products.

Kentucky’s Medical Cannabis Legalization

Meanwhile, Kentucky has emerged as the 38th state to legalize medical cannabis access. Governor Andy Beshear ratified legislation in March, mandating the implementation of a comprehensive program by the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The program is slated for establishment on January 1, 2025, marking a pivotal moment for Kentucky’s medical cannabis proponents. Matthew Bratcher, Executive Director of Kentucky NORML, hailed the move, acknowledging it as a significant first step towards enabling safe and regulated access to therapeutic products for Kentuckians.

Enduring Advocacy for Cannabis Reform

NORML, a pioneer in cannabis advocacy since its inception in 1970, continues to play a crucial role in steering the cannabis industry towards progress and regulation. The organization’s commitment underscores the enduring efforts dedicated to reform and improvement within the cannabis sector.

Image courtesy of NORML