Marijuana, hemp and hemp are three similar terms and often confused with one another, says Mackenzie Slade, director of Cannabis Public Policy Consulting. While cannabis is defined as a Hemp sativa plant containing no more than 0.3% of the intoxicating psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by dry weight, Slade says that “marijuana” and “cannabis” are used interchangeably in a legal case.
Both marijuana and cannabis Refers to the intoxicating component of the cannabis plant that is normally consumed by smoking, eating, vaping or topical application. “Cannabis is a plant of the genus Cannabis whose flowers and plant material contain concentrated amounts of psychoactive chemicals,” explains Slade. Some of these psychoactive chemicals can be found in other plants; However, cannabis is the only plant that produces psychoactive cannabinoids Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabinol (CBD). Meanwhile, hemp does not contain high levels of intoxicating compounds.
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Legalization of cannabis is a hot topic. While the federal laws surrounding the legality of cannabis exist, additional bills regarding its legal status were discussed in the House and Senate as recently as April 2022 with the Marijuana Reinvestment and Deletion Act. In addition, state legislatures have their own laws on the production, sale, and use of cannabis, which adds another layer of complexity to its legal status.
Marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which went into effect in 1970. “Not only is it illegal, it’s also believed to be abused and have no medical benefits,” says Slade. With this scheduling mode, she adds, cannabis is subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as well as DEA enforcement under the Controlled Substances Act. “It’s federally illegal to use cannabis for adult use or for medicinal purposes, except for one prescription drug, Epidiolex,” she says, adding that the drug, which is used to treat seizure disorders, contains CBD, not THC.
At the federal level, the legal status of marijuana has not changed since the 1970s, but there are two ways in which federal laws have evolved. Cole’s 2013 memorandum provided guidance on the priorities for federal investigation and prosecution related to marijuana. “Cole Memo has essentially set the guidelines and priorities for state regulated cannabis programs to remain within its scope, including banning sales across state lines, banning sales to minors, and implementing tracking systems that prevent difference,” says Slade.
Subsequently, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Deletion Act, passed by the House in April 2022, proposed de-scheduling marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It also includes the write-off of previous marijuana-related convictions. As of May 2022, this bill has been before the Senate, although it is not expected to pass because only three Republican representatives support it.