California passed Proposition 215 in 1996. Since then, many cities and states across the country have enacted laws to allow for the use of cannabis.
Forty-six states now have some form of marijuana legalization. Thirty-four states have enacted medical marijuana laws and have functioning medical programs currently serving patients. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have programs that have decriminalized or allow for adult recreational marijuana use.
Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This successfully removed hemp and hemp-derived products from the Controlled Substance Act. It also lifted the federal ban on the possession and sale of hemp. This was a major shift in agriculture and drug policy. By lifting the hundred-year ban on hemp production, the beginnings of a regulated market for hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) emerged. The Act paved the way for states to regulate CBD products under nascent federal guidelines. However, some states have refused to establish a regulated market. Instead, they chose to maintain prohibitive policies for CBD possession and sale.
Cannabis remains illegal under federal law and remains defined as a Schedule I substance. A Schedule I substance is without any acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse.
How is it possible that federal law criminalizes cannabis and labels it as having no acceptable medical use? While at the same time, many states across the country have created thriving, legal cannabis industries.
In 2013, the Obama administration directed the Department of Justice to change its approach to the enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act. Through a series of advisory rules,1https://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/3052013829132756857467.pdf the federal government decided to reduce its targeting of cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs. Those who operated under the acceptable rules and regulations (like Ajoya!) created by state-level governments. As a result, the Cole memo determined that the states provided a suitable laboratory to prove the viability, acceptance, safety and success of medical and recreational cannabis markets. As a result, many states began enacting laws to allow for both medical and adult use cannabis markets. This continues to happen despite the fact that federal law still outlaws possession, distribution and sale of cannabis.
Given the sea change in state and local laws, personal and community attitudes towards cannabis have been changing rapidly. For decades, cannabis has been dismissed as having a negative impact on productivity and societal engagement, and its users have been targeted, stigmatized and demonized. As legalization crisscrosses the United States, it is important to discourage those negative stereotypes, dismantle the injustices of prohibition, clearly understand the beneficial uses, and fight for decriminalization at every level of government.
Tides have changed as the current industry proves that cannabis has successfully integrated into daily life for many. Prohibition is a relic, and the cannabis community is thriving. We can all work together towards a safe and ethical cannabis industry that is unburdened by prohibition, and jump into opportunities for activism, education, and civic engagement.