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.
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?
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.
“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.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Santa Cruz Will Consider Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
Santa Cruz, California could be the latest in a wave of cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with a City Council hearing on the proposal scheduled for Tuesday.
The city vice mayor, Justin Cummings, recently introduced the resolution, which would make possession, use and cultivation of entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.
“Plants and fungi with psychedelic properties have been used for thousands of years by indigenous communities for spiritual and medical practices and many are considered illegal in our country,” Cummings told Marijuana Moment in an email. “As we begin to better understand the health benefits of these plants and fungi, we need to not treat the people who use and research these plants and fungi as criminals, and lower barriers for research, clinical treatment, and personal.”
“Santa Cruz has a number of organizations that conduct research on use of psychedelics to improve mental health and we as a community want to support these efforts,” he added.
The full City Council will hear a presentation from the advocacy group Decriminalize Santa Cruz and discuss the resolution on Tuesday. After that point, the measure will be referred to the Public Safety Commission for further consideration.
Text of the resolution emphasizes the medical potential of psychedelics and the ritualistic consumption of the substances throughout history.
If approved, that would mean the City Council “supports the possession, use, and/or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi for personal adult use and clinical research and psychoactive practices, and declares that the investigation and arrest of individuals involved with the adult possession, use, or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi listed on the federal schedule one list for personal use be among the lowest priorities for the city of Santa Cruz.”
The measure recommends that the use of psychedelics for medical or spiritual purposes “be done in consultation with, and under the supervision of trained/medical professionals.”
Additionally, it calls on the city manager to order Santa Cruz’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing all entheogenic psychoactive plants, and plant and fungi-based compounds listed in the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”
Psychedelics reform is moving ahead in jurisdictions throughout the U.S., with Denver becoming the first city to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms in May. Oakland’s City Council followed suit, unanimously approving a resolution that expanding the decriminalization to a wide range of entheogenic substances.
Advocates are also working to advance decriminalization in Portland, Chicago, Berkeley and Dallas.
Meanwhile, California activists are pushing two separate statewide psychedelics initiatives: one that would decriminalize psilocybin across the board and another more recently filed measure that calls for broad legalization and commercial sales. Oregon activists are collecting signatures for a 2020 proposal that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
On the federal level, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing psychedelics and promoting research into the substances in a video statement delivered at a Drug Policy Alliance conference last week.
Read text of the Santa Cruz psychedelic resolution below:
Sanders, Warren And Buttigieg Include Medical Marijuana In Veterans Day Plans
To commemorate Veterans Day, a number of presidential candidates are releasing plans focused on helping those who served the country in the military—and at least three major contenders are including marijuana-specific planks in their proposals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, wants to ensure that doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “have the option of appropriately prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Barbara Lee Honors Veterans Day With Call To Action On Marijuana Reform
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) marked Veterans Day by promoting a bill she introduced that would effectively legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.
In a press release and email blast for the national advocacy group NORML, the congresswoman discussed the need to expand access to cannabis for those who’ve served, stating that studies demonstrate the plant can treat symptoms of conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lee said that as the daughter of a veteran, the issue is particularly important for her.
“Congress must do more to ensure every veteran has a roof over their head, to ensure our veterans come home to a job that pays them a living wage, and to ensure our veterans have access to the health care services they deserve,” she said in the press release. “That includes improving veterans’ access to medical marijuana.”
“That’s why I introduced H.R. 1151, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference,” she said. “The current federal prohibition on cannabis is harmful and counterproductive. Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care.”
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act was introduced in February, and the House version currently has three cosponsors, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). The Senate companion version was filed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and has two cosponsors, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who signed on last week.
In her email for NORML on Monday, Lee said that cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but the policy also “falls hard upon is our nation’s veterans.”
The congresswoman noted that medical cannabis is widely used by veterans, yet doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) aren’t allowed to fill out recommendations, even in states where it’s legal. That would change under her legislation, she said.
Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care. That's why I introduced the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference.
— Barbara Lee (@BLeeForCongress) November 11, 2019
“This year, we can and must succeed in passing this essential legislation and protecting the rights of veterans to access medical treatment and serving those who served us,” she wrote, linking to a page where people can send a letter in support of her bill to their own representatives.
“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients, while continuing to rely on pharmaceuticals drugs like opioids as a treatment, is both a dangerous and illogical policy,” she said. “We know medical marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for veterans and it is time to stop making them seek private, out-of-network physicians to access it.”
“I sponsored the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act because I know it will create an immediate positive impact on the lives of our veterans. Once enacted, veterans will be able to access medical marijuana treatment without the added challenge of accessing a private, non-VA physician. Together, we can gather enough support to pass this legislation, but it will only happen if enough Americans stand up and demand it. Please tell your member of Congress to support the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”
VA under the Trump administration has resisted marijuana reform legislation, with officials from the department testifying in a committee hearing in April that it opposed several proposals, including one that would require VA to conduct research into the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, whose department also declined to take action on veterans cannabis issues, recently said that he’s in favor of increasing research into the plant’s therapeutic potential and blamed staff for misinforming him about what VA was capable of doing to that end while he was in office.
Lee, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also discussed cannabis reform in a video statement that was broadcast at a Drug Policy Alliance conference in St. Louis on Saturday. She didn’t address veterans issues specifically but rather spoke about broader reform efforts to federally legalize marijuana.
“We all know that the federal prohibition on marijuana has led to the overcriminalization and mass incarceration, especially in black and brown communities,” she told activists in the taped message. “That is why we need to ensure that as the cannabis movement marches forward, it does so hand-in-hand with efforts to address these racial inequities head on.”
“I think we’re at a pivotal moment for the cannabis movement. There is so much excitement for the progress we’ve made and for where we are pushing to go,” the congresswoman said. “If we do this right—by ensuring that we address the legacy of the failed war on drugs and center our work in restorative justice—there is no stopping us.
“I wish you success for your conference and the work ahead,” she said. “Stay woke.”
Photo courtesy of Rep. Barbara Lee.