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How Many Medical Marijuana States Are There? Advocates Disagree On The Number

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Is it 30? 31? How about 45 or 49?

With marijuana legalization efforts moving forward at full steam in states across the country, it can be understandably difficult to keep track of the total number of states that have legalized cannabis in some form, especially when it comes to counting differing medical programs.

In some cases, even national advocacy groups disagree over the actual tally.

Map courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

For example, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lists 30 legal medical marijuana states, while NORML says the number is 31. Americans for Safe Access, meanwhile, has an interactive map that provides information about existing cannabis laws in 45 states. So what is the number, really?

 

Map courtesy of MPP.

If you ask NORML, it’s a plain and clear 31. Paul Armentano, the organization’s deputy director, told Marijuana Moment that it’s based on simple reasoning: there are currently 31 states in the U.S. that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes (not including more limited, CBD-focused laws in other states, but we’ll get to those in a minute).

Not every legal cannabis program is the same, but NORML’s number is meant to represent quantity, not necessarily quality. However, differences between advocacy groups isn’t entirely unexpected, he said, because state-level marijuana laws have continued to evolve and are increasingly varied.

Map courtesy of NORML.

“The problem is there’s a fixation sometimes in the general public and in the mind of the media where they want numbers—they want tallies,” Armentano said. “The reality is that we have a complex, patchwork system when it comes to marijuana policy that is state-by-state.”

“At this point in time, a number of those laws have evolved in such ways that they have many things in common, but they also have many differences. It’s getting hard to just place a total number on, say, medical marijuana states or decriminalization states because these laws are evolving to such a degree that, really, it’s time to acknowledge that we have 50 states with 50 very, very different marijuana laws.”

So where does MPP’s number come from?

Unlike NORML, MPP determines what constitutes a legal medical marijuana state based on the fact the state passed a law aimed at medical cannabis in addition to an independent analysis of the efficacy of those laws. That’s why the organization doesn’t include Louisiana in its list of legal states, for instance, even though NORML and others count it.

“Forty-nine states have adopted some form of medical marijuana law, and we feel that the easiest distinction to draw is between those that are effective and relatively comprehensive and those that are ineffective or highly restrictive,” Mason Tvert, MPP’s media relations director, told Marijuana Moment. “There are some states, such as Louisiana, that could arguably fall into both categories, but our policy experts currently still consider it to be too limited to be considered one of the states that has adopted an effective and comprehensive medical marijuana law.”

One major tenet of the organization’s efficacy standard concerns whether the state permits inhalation of cannabis. If a state “allows patients to either smoke or vaporize marijuana or marijuana oils, or both,” then that’s one point toward efficacy. MPP goes into further detail about its policy here.

When you hear numbers in the upper 40s, those generally take into account states that allow certain patients to use CBD extracts with low-THC composition, but licensed programs providing those products are few and far between. Generally speaking, legalization advocates don’t consider CBD-only states “legal,” per se, but it’s another factor that can muddle the math.

What consequence, if any, these varying tallies have on public policy is uncertain.

Advocates believe, however, that including the CBD-only states is one key factor that led to the passage in 2014, and subsequent extension, of a congressionally approved rider preventing Justice Department interference in medical marijuana states. Since the text of the measure itself meticulously lists out all of the affected states—including ones like Texas and Virginia, which only have CBD laws—it is that much harder for lawmakers from those states to vote no.

Armentano added that the numbers do matter to an extent because “it is hard to be critical when you see these different numbers thrown around in the media, when in fact the movement itself isn’t on the same page with regard to a total number.”

One thing advocates do agree on is the number of states that allow recreational, or adult-use marijuana. That’s nine, plus Washington, D.C.

Legalizing Marijuana Helps Police Solve Other Crimes, New Study Shows

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week

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A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.

Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.

In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”

However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”

The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.

The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.

“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.

While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.

Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.

On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.

Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Two Cannabis Bills While Letting Decriminalization Become Law

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Colorado Governor And USDA Official To Discuss CBD At Hemp Event

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official will speak at a hemp conference next month to discuss policy and regulations concerning hemp-derived dietary supplements.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced the lineup of their first-ever hemp and CBD conference last week. The two-day event is meant to “provide critical information for companies navigating the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscapes to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).”

Following the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers and stakeholders have been quick to highlight the industry’s potential and to call for an expedited rulemaking process so that CBD can be lawfully marketed in food items and dietary supplements.

This conference will focus on dietary supplements in particular, with presentations on the current regulatory landscape for such products, compliance issues for hemp businesses and market analysis.

Polis has been a vocal advocate for marijuana reform and pledged in his State of the State address in January that he would make “good on the promise of industrial hemp in Colorado.”

“With our world class universities like Colorado State and Adams State, which are at the forefront of hemp innovation with the leading hemp manufacturers and cultivators already here, we want to seize on this opportunity under the most recent national Farm Bill to help make Colorado the national leader in industrial hemp production,” Polis said at the time.

AHPA’s two-day event will also feature USDA Senior Marketing Specialist William Richmond, who will brief attendees with an update on the department’s progress developing regulations for CBD. The department said last month that it is aiming to release an interim final rule on hemp in August.

But while USDA has regulatory authority over hemp, businesses will also have to await guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on marketing consumable CBD products. FDA said last week that it is “expediting” its rulemaking process and will release a report on its progress by early fall.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and hasn’t previously been added to the food supply or in dietary supplements, the agency will have to create an alternative regulatory pathway for the compounds, which could take years without congressional action.

In the meantime, it appears that both federal agencies are taking steps to increase transparency around their regulatory progress. Two days before the USDA official is set to appear at the AHPA conference, an FDA representative is scheduled to keynote a separate hemp industry summit to discuss related issues.

FDA Says It Is Speeding Up The CBD Regulation Process

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Marijuana Legalization Could Be On The Horizon For British Virgin Islands

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The British Virgin Islands (BVI) could soon have a bill to legalize marijuana before the legislature, according to a government official.

Details are sparse, but Agriculture Minister Natalio Wheatley said on Saturday that the draft legislation under consideration would address concerns about youth consumption and impaired driving while ensuring that adults no longer face jail time for simple possession.

“We certainly know that marijuana, which contains THC, has an impact on your disposition. It has an impact on you being able to complete certain tasks,” he said, according to BVI News. “We don’t want to fool everyone into thinking that we think persons should be up and down smoking marijuana through the streets without any sort of regulation.”

He added that he hoped the legislation would make BVI a global model for legalization.

“We certainly support having a well-regulated industry, and the fact that we’re coming in late into this whole discussion of marijuana means that we don’t have to repeat the mistakes that some of our brothers and sisters made in other places,” he said.

The draft bill being circulated reportedly originated under the previous administration and is being improved upon. Wheatley said that residents, who he believes support legalization, should expect community meetings to be scheduled to discuss the proposal.

“Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” he said. “In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”

BVI’s cousin, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), hasn’t taken the step to allow adult use of marijuana, but the territory’s governor did sign a bill legalizing medical cannabis in January.

The sponsor of the USVI legislation, former senator and current Agriculture Commissioner Terrance “Positive” Nelson, said that he plans to continue to pursue broader reform, and he commended BVI for moving toward a commercial cannabis model.

“I told you already it is not easy to stand up for cannabis. I still have some scars on my back relative to the push in [USVI],” he said. “Here in the British Virgin Islands, you are talking about legalization and I want for local leaders here to continue to be brave enough to move forward.”

“Yes, there is going to be pushbacks. But the truth in the matter is this: the truth is on your side,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Two Cannabis Bills While Letting Decriminalization Become Law

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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