Can you smoke up or not? Cannabis law experts weigh in on what the recent House vote and what it means for average Americans.
You may have already heard the news that the United States House of Representatives recently passed a marijuana legalization bill in early December, with the Democratic-controlled vote landing in favor of the MORE Act. With 228-164 votes mostly across party lines, the measure aims to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and expunge some marijuana-related criminal records. What this means for the average American interested in recreational cannabis use can be confusing, though.
"The Democratic-led House took an affirmative step to further catalyze the momentum towards legalization that we’ve seen on a state level," explains Chad Gruber, a private practice attorney with years of experience as a public defender in the most populous county in New Mexico, a state where as recently as 2016 almost 4,000 low level marijuana-related arrests were made. "It’s notable that although the vote was mostly split across party lines, this is a bipartisan effort with a Republican co-sponsor. There's little chance the bill will get through the Senate and be enacted into law, but we could see it come up again in a Biden administration."
"The newly-passed House bill," he says, "Does nothing to change the current legal framework around cannabis use. Depending on the jurisdiction you live in, you still could face potential state or federal prosecution for the use, possession, and distribution of marijuana. On a practical level, I'm hopeful it might persuade state-level prosecutors to de-prioritize marijuana offenses in favor of more serious threats to our communities."
Image courtesy of @brycegruber on Instagram
The MORE Act is about far more than whether or not the average Joe can smoke a joint without worry, and is something Dasheeda Dawson, the Cannabis Program Supervisor for the City of Portland, Oregon is extremely passionate about. "The intent of this act is to provide opportunity for individuals harmed by cannabis prohibition, reinvest cannabis tax revenue into the communities adversely impacted by prohibition, and expunge records of those with previous cannabis convictions," she says of the potentially ground-breaking bill. "All this bill does is signal more acceptance of cannabis as a legalized product."
Cannabis is steadily moving in a more legally-accepted substance direction with every passing day, with Dasheeda's own city, Portland, leading a national movement to accept and normalize recreational marijuana use. "Cannabis consumption is far more sophisticated than just smoking a joint," she says of the plant that's more typically associate with traveling jam bands, Rastafarian culture, and college than the healing and medicinal properties science has proven time and time again.
"Delivery mechanisms, or the way cannabis can be consumed, as a sector, is one of the fastest growing areas of innovation within the legal cannabis industry. Although cannabis flower still represents 35 to 40 percent of total sales, the fastest growing consumption method is concentrated vapes, followed closely by edibles. Oregon’s market has one of the most diverse assortments in the country ranging from transdermal patches, sublingual sprays or strips, and many types of infused manufactured goods like edibles and topicals. All of these products require concentrated forms of cannabis or extracts that can be converted into different types of finished consumer products."
In fact, THC-laden candies made up 44 percent of the American edible marijuana share in 2019, followed by tinctures with a hearty 17 percent. Popular recreation marijuana dispensaries (which is what cannabis-inclusive stores are called) are rapidly expanding their offerings from the typical pay-per-weight dried flowers and pre-rolls to an ever-evolving menu of gourmet edibles, tinctures, and other less-expected ways to deliver THC.
Image courtesy of ReCreate Cannabis
ReCreate Cannabis, from the founders of revolutionary CBD brand Charlotte’s Web, has recently come out with its Limited Edition THC Holiday Bark offered in flavors like white chocolate with peppermint and milk chocolate with gingerbread and toffee. While this may seem like a fun, gift-worthy gimmick, experts like Dasheeda think it's actually a much broader indication that marijuana use is edging towards mainstream consumption and is finding a higher brow niche than before.
Serra, one of the most popular dispensaries in Dasheeda's Portland, Oregon jurisdiction, is so widely accepted by locals that the region's best-known export, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, has been partnering on edible THC treats for years with a range of coffee-enhanced chocolates, caramels, and other tokens local flavor.
Image courtesy of Serra
Though recreational marijuana is still a state-level decision, previously anti-cannabis states with zero-tolerance approaches to substance use are finding themselves in more relaxed ahead of any federal level approvals. A vote on New Jersey's recreational marijuana market is expected as soon as December 17 of this year, with legislative leaders and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy saying they agreed on a compromise to establish up to 37 cultivation licenses in the first two years. As one of the region's forerunners in recreational marijuana, they're setting the local tone by committing 70 percent of the sales tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales as well as revenue from a grower tax to aiding communities and individuals disproportionately in New Jersey affected by the nation's war on drugs. Those programs will include mentoring and legal aid, which some are interpreting as loose state-level apologies for past intolerances of low-level drug offenses.
New Jersey and several nearby states currently offer access to medical marijuana programs, with offerings ranging from near-endless flower options throughout the Garden State to a more limited selection of THC-based pharmacy-style pills in New York, which still limits access to flower, pre-rolls, and edibles. Those limitations are expected to change, if not loosen, in coming months and years as medical marijuana program states expand their approved conditions list beyond cancer, PTSD, and HIV, and other serious ailments to less threatening issues like post-operative care and sexual performance.
Foria, a popular luxury cannabis wellness company with a foothold in both the THC and mainstream CBD markets, has begun offering some of their most-loved over the counter CBD products with THC in select markets. Pleasure, a women's personal wellness product designed to 'enhance tactile sensations' with the help of both THC and CBD, is already available in California and Colorado, with additional markets expected as time, and the push for normalized cannabis use, marches on.
Image courtesy of Foria
What we can expect on a national basis, however, is age-restricted use. "At the federal level, we anticipate the regulations will restrict consumption to 21 and over," Dawson says of recreational cannabis' expansion. "On the state level, Montana just passed a law that gave access to both alcohol and cannabis to adults 18 and over. There’s still a lot of debate on the usage of cannabis for individuals under 23, and this is largely based on old, biased research. We still have so much to learn about cannabis in America, but in countries like Israel, Canada and Spain, we are seeing much more scientific research in support of cannabis usage in a variety of ways."
The bottom line? A clear path to recreational use is being paved, but isn't ready to be walked on just yet.