Let’s Take Cannabis Out of Limbo

May 20, 2021

Can we please make up our minds in this country whether cannabis is legal or not?

Can we please make up our minds in this country whether cannabis is legal or not?

The annoyingly ambiguous legal status of cannabis and its family of products/substances – marijuana, hemp, THC, CBD – came to mind with a recent news item. A trio of U.S. senators is introducing legislation to, in effect, make it OK to use cannabidiol (CBD) in foods and beverages. The legislation is sponsored by the two senators from Oregon, which has a richly developed in-state cannabis market, and Rand Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky. Paul is the son of a famous libertarian and has described himself as “libertarian-ish”; his introducing this legislation recalls the maxim, “A libertarian is a Republican who wants legal pot.”

The legislation would reverse the FDA’s decision to classify CBD as a drug, which made it just about impossible to use as a food or beverage ingredient. That effectively hamstrung the farmers, and those downstream on the product chain, who were counting on being able to raise crops of hemp, which was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill.

Yes, there are lots of products available, of all sorts, containing CBD, especially online. But they’re made just about exclusively by small processors who usually specialize in cannabis products. Mainstream processors are staying away, because who wants to sink a lot of money into a product that the FDA could ban tomorrow?

The situation with CBD is just one aspect of the absurdly inconsistent approach to cannabis in general. Cannabis is still classified federally as a Schedule I narcotic, right alongside heroin, which is ridiculous. It’s legal for recreational use in 15 states, and for medical use in 33. But because of the federal situation, processors who want to use tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, as an ingredient must source it, and process and distribute their products, entirely within the borders of their home state.

This has to stop. I think ending the prohibition on marijuana is great; there is no reason to criminalize it. But if we’re making it legal, let’s knock off this silly dance of it being legal on the state level but not on the federal one. The Senate legislation is a good start.

States that don’t want to legalize cannabis are free to close their borders to it. But the legal cannabis market is estimated to reach $147.5 billion by 2027. It’s just stupid to make every border of every state an impenetrable barrier to a market that big.

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