Legal THC: Your Questions Answered

Signs bearing “Legal THC” have been popping up in the windows of vape shops, gas stations, and wellness centers around the country. For many, especially those in states where marijuana continues to be illegal, this has caused confusion. After all, if marijuana is illegal federally, and in a particular state, how are stores openly selling THC?

The confusion stems from the misconception that THC per se is illegal. It’s not. Marijuana is illegal, federally and in some states. On the other hand, THC in hemp is lawful. When THC is derived from hemp rather than from marijuana, it is federally legal for adults to buy across the country—without a prescription.

Hemp, Marijuana, and the 2018 Farm Bill

As cannabis business lawyer Rod Kight explains, “The terms ‘hemp’ and ‘marijuana’ are mostly misleading. Both are the plant Cannabis sativa and, in fact, are biologically indistinct from each other. The sole difference between them is their respective concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC.” By definition, hemp can contain no more than 0.3% of Delta-9 THC.

The 0.3% rule first appeared in the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the “2014 Farm Bill”), which allowed states to create pilot programs to research industrial hemp. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the “2018 Farm Bill”) kept the 0.3% rule and broadly legalized hemp throughout the U.S., ushering in the current market for commercial hemp products, including hemp derivatives like CBD, CBG, and the various forms of THC.

Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill created a large opening in the cannabis industry for businesses to develop and market hemp products with high levels of cannabinoids other than CBD. This includes products with enough THC to cause psychoactive effects, while still complying with the federal limit of 0.3% Delta-9 THC by weight.

Delta-9 THC versus “The Deltas”

The best-known form of THC is Delta-9 THC, the most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana and the reason that marijuana gets you high.

But Delta-9 THC is not the only form of THC. Both marijuana and hemp contain other forms of THC as well, like Delta-8 THC and Delta-10 THC—albeit only in very small amounts.

Since only trace levels of THC are present in hemp, they were not a factor in the hemp market until the Farm Bill opened the door to innovations in extraction and processing. Manufacturers are now able to work with hemp-derived THC in much higher concentrations.

Rocket Bites THC Gummies are bursting with fruity flavor and packed with 30 mg of Delta-8 THC. / Courtesy of Crescent Canna

Delta-8 THC, which has effects similar to, but less potent than, the effects of Delta-9 THC, was the first hemp-derived THC to gain traction in the market. But Delta-9 THC has quickly become the most popular form of hemp-derived THC, since it produces effects that are identical to those of marijuana.

While the federal legality of hemp-derived THC has been challenged several times since 2018, the Farm Bill’s definition of hemp has so far been affirmed.

In 2021, the Drug Enforcement Agency stated that cannabinoids extracted from cannabis with a Delta-9 THC concentration of “not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis meet the definition of ‘hemp’ and thus are not controlled under the CSA [Controlled Substances Act].”

By legal definition, hemp products are products containing less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC. Because of this, hemp products can contain any quantity of Delta-8 THC and still be federally legal.

In a unanimous ruling in 2022, a California Federal Appeals Court ruled that the Farm Bill “is silent with regard to delta-8 THC” and that “regardless of the wisdom of legalizing delta-8 THC products, this Court will not substitute its own policy judgment for that of Congress.”

State laws

Although federal law seems clear for the moment, some state governments have imposed restrictions on hemp-derived THC.

Since Delta-9 THC is explicitly part of the definition of hemp, it would be difficult to restrict hemp-derived Delta-9 products without also restricting full-spectrum CBD products in the same way.

Legal
Crescent Canna’s Delta-9 THC gummies are full-panel lab-tested and available in blue raspberry, peach, and green apple flavors with 100% vegan ingredients. / Courtesy of Crescent Canna

But states can restrict or ban forms of THC like Delta-8, Delta-10, and THC-O without also challenging the status of full-spectrum CBD products that contain trace amounts of Delta-9 THC. Unlike Delta-9 THC, these other forms of THC aren’t directly tied to the definition of hemp.

State laws are changing all the time. Moving forward, expect to see more states banning various forms of THC, even as they allow hemp-derived Delta-9 THC products to remain on the market with regulations around potency, testing, and labeling.

What’s the difference between hemp-derived THC and marijuana-derived THC?

Aside from the source, hemp-derived Delta-9 THC and marijuana-derived Delta-9 THC don’t differ at all. Chemically, they are indistinguishable.

Do hemp-derived THC products get you high?

Because hemp-derived THC is identical to marijuana-derived THC, it has the same psychoactive effects and wellness benefits. 

Of course, products, strains, and complementary ingredients can vary. But all other things being equal, a gummy with 10 mg of hemp-derived Delta-9 THC has the same effect as a gummy with 10 mg of marijuana-derived Delta-9 THC. 

Legal
Crescent Canna Delta-9 THC gummies provide a delightful THC experience and are available for adults without a prescription. / Courtesy of Crescent Canna

Where can you get hemp-derived THC?

Because hemp-derived THC edibles are federally legal, you can order them online from just about anywhere in the country.

For adult consumers in states where marijuana remains illegal, this development has been revolutionary because hemp-derived THC products are far more accessible. You don’t need a prescription to order them. 

Moreover, they are usually less expensive than the products available at marijuana dispensaries and are usually not subject to the same excise taxes. In Washington state, for example, customers pay a 37% excise tax on recreational marijuana products.

What to look for in hemp-derived THC products

When states legalize marijuana, either medicinally or recreationally, they set up significant regulations. While a few states have enacted regulations around hemp-derived products to ensure their quality and safety, most states have not.

As a result, some bad actors have taken advantage of the lack of regulation with hemp products that aren’t thoroughly tested or have dishonest labeling. 

Before purchasing hemp-derived THC products, it’s a good idea to make sure that the company selling them has full-panel certificates of analysis posted on their website. These certificates should report cannabinoid content that is accurately reflected in the product label and should report that the product has zero harmful contaminants.

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In addition to federal compliance, Crescent Canna’s THC gummies have been reviewed and approved by the Louisiana Department of Health. / Courtesy of Crescent Canna

The Louisiana Example

Another way to know that you’re getting a high-quality and legal THC product is to purchase it from a Louisiana hemp company. Louisiana has adopted the most robust requirements for registering consumable hemp products in the country. The requirements pertain to testing, ingredients, packaging, marketing, and a 21-year age limit for intoxicating hemp products, among other considerations.

In order for hemp-derived THC products to be sold in Louisiana, they must meet all of these requirements and be approved by the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH). You can see the full list of products approved for sale in the state of Louisiana at the LDH website.

Louisiana currently allows all forms of hemp-derived THC as long as the finished product contains less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC. Going a step further than federal law, the state also caps the percentage of total THC at 1%, one of several limitations intended to keep consumers safe while allowing the new market for hemp-derived THC products to grow.

Adults across the country can order federally legal THC gummies registered with the Louisiana Department of Health. Order a free THC gummies sample here.

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Louisiana University Gains Approval to Conduct Cannabis Research and Testing

The University of Louisiana Monroe School of Pharmacy has gained the approval to conduct cannabis testing and research under legislation passed last month by state lawmakers. Under the bill from state Representative Mike Echols, ULM will become the third university in Louisiana authorized to perform research into cannabis and hemp.

“Louisiana State University and Southern University have been the only two schools in the state that can do research around hemp and marijuana but not anymore,” Echols said. “We were able to add to some of the bills flowing through the process to give ULM the opportunity to do some of that strategic research.”

The legislation also allows the School of Pharmacy to provide lab testing services for purity and potency to the state’s medical cannabis industry. Echols said that his bill amends Louisiana’s medical marijuana statute to allow the university to provide laboratory testing services and study new applications for cannabis and hemp.

“They have the School of Pharmacy at ULM, the state’s only publicly-funded school of pharmacy…and so there was a real key relationship between some of the products that are being produced out there now, and the new pharmaceutical products that could be produced. We wanted ULM to have a chance to do some research in that space,” he explained.

Echols said that the facility will create new jobs at ULM and up to $1 million in revenue from testing services alone, with research into new applications for cannabis and hemp providing additional economic opportunities.

“Now, as far as pharmaceutical research goes, if they are able to find new drugs and new potential for that particular strain then there’s … unlimited potential,” Echols told local media.

New 20-Acre Research Facility To Be Built

ULM’s cannabis testing and research operations will be carried out at a 20-acre facility that is a collaboration between the School of Pharmacy and the non-profit Biomedical Research and Innovation Park (BRIP). The new research park will provide a home for hemp and cannabis research and testing services and other scientific enterprises. BRIP board member Susan Nicholson noted that while the project is in the early planning stages, developers expect the new research facility will require about $35 million in funding. The engineering and construction phase of the park is scheduled to begin early next year.

“The endgame is to try and work with researchers at ULM College of Pharmacy to build a number of facilities to enhance what we have at the school of pharmacy facility with biomedical developments,” said Nicholson. “That is when we will begin mapping out the road system for the facility, which is where we’ll be starting first. It should happen fairly quickly.”

The new facility will position the ULM School of Pharmacy to conduct state-of-the-art cannabis research, which Nicholson says is expanding nationwide.

“There are too many positive potential usages in various drug protocols to pass up,” she said. “The discoveries that are being made in hemp and marijuana research about its uses and proven medical benefits are too great not to move forward.”

Dr. Ray Armstrong, another BRIP board member, said that hemp is a very versatile resource, with companies interested in exploring applications including fiber and hempcrete, which he said is “even stronger and lighter than concrete.”

Echol’s bill requires the state to conduct oversight of the universities conducting cannabis research and the partners they collaborate with.

“The contractor selected by the licensed university through a competitive bid process to cultivate, extract, process, produce and transport therapeutic marijuana shall be subject to oversight and inspections by the Louisiana Department of Health,” reads the text of the legislation.

Under the legislation, the health department’s oversight responsibilities include requirements for the inspection of research facilities, inventory reporting, security and compliance with state building, plumbing, and electrical codes.

Echols’ legislation, House Bill 697, was passed by the Louisiana state legislature and signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards in June. The bill goes into effect on August 1.

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Louisiana Senate Approves Bill Allowing Public Employees to Use Medical Pot

The Louisiana state Senate voted 26-8 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would protect public employees who use medical cannabis from job discrimination. The measure, House Bill 988, was approved by the Louisiana House of Representatives last week and now heads to the desk of Governor John Bel Edwards for his consideration.

Under the bill, public employees using medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation and in accordance with state law are protected from being fired for using medical pot. The bill also protects medical cannabis patients who are applying for state positions from being denied employment or other job discrimination based on their use of cannabis.

“This would basically be a first step to having laws on the books to protect people who have medical marijuana cards,” state Representative Mandy Landry, the sponsor of the bill, said last month after introducing the bill.

The bill does not apply to private employers or local government agencies, including police and fire departments. Landry told reporters that the legislation was limited to state employees to address likely opposition from politically powerful law enforcement and business lobbyists in the state Capitol.

Medical Cannabis an Alternative to Opioids in Louisiana

The Louisiana House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote of 60-32 on May 24. While the bill was up for debate in the House, Landry told her colleagues that the legislation would help prevent state workers from becoming addicted to opioids, an argument that was echoed in the upper body of the state legislature by Senator Stewart Cathey.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to take opioids for their long-term PTSD and pain management because of the high possibility of addiction to opioids,” Landry said when the bill came up in a House committee last month. “This has proved to be a better option than them.”

The bill faced opposition from some lawmakers in the House, who argued that the legislature should not be drafting policy for state workers. Representative Larry Frieman said that such tasks should be carried out by the state Department of Administration. Jacques Berry, the communications director for the agency, noted that the Department of Administration has policies that protect its employees that use medical cannabis. But he added that the department does not have the authority to create employment policy for all state agencies.

State Representative Ed Larvadain supported the bill, suggesting that more work on cannabis policy reform is yet to come.

“We’re going to have to change how we deal with medical marijuana,” Larvadain said. “But this is a first step.”

Larvadain offered to work with Landry in the future to find a path that makes law enforcement officers and firefighters also eligible to use medical cannabis.

“A lot of those men and women have chronic pains because over the years they’ve had to climb through windows and police officers have been abused,” Larvadain said.

Medical cannabis advocates including Kevin Caldwell of the Marijuana Policy Project also supported the bill.

“The fact is we have an opioid problem that gets discussed in this building all the time,” Caldwell said. “We are seeing that for a lot of patients, medical cannabis is an exit strategy.”

Tony Landry of the Veterans Action Council noted that police officers and firefighters are not able to take CBD because of the risk that trace amounts of THC “can accumulate in your body over time and cause a positive test. I’m in favor of this bill, and I just think we need to leave no employee behind.”

Louisiana legalized medical cannabis for patients with debilitating medical conditions in 2015, and sales of medicinal weed began in the state in 2019. The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy reports that the state has more than 43,000 registered medical cannabis patients. Last year, the governor signed legislation to decriminalize possession of up to 14 grams of pot, making such offenses only punishable by a fine of up to $100.

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Louisiana Bill to Allow State Employees to Use Medical Cannabis Receives Unanimous Vote

House Bill 988 was passed through the Louisiana House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on May 19. If the bill becomes law, it would create protections for state employees who seek to use medical cannabis. While it would prevent employees from being fired, and prevent discrimination against those who seek to apply, it does not apply to public safety employees such as firefighters or law enforcement.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mandie Landry, strongly believes that her bill is a healthier choice for Louisianians. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to take opioids for their long-term PTSD and pain management because of the high possibility of addiction to opioids,” Landry said, according to the Louisiana Illuminator. “This has proved to be a better option than them.”

The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy estimated that there are 43,000 medical cannabis consumers in the state, and currently only nine pharmacies to serve them.

At the committee meeting, Louisiana Department of Administration Communications Director Jacques Berry noted that his own department already has regulations in place to prevent discrimination for medical cannabis consumption. In support, he shared his thoughts on unifying regulations across the board with an example about a workplace harassment bill that is operating similarly. “Every agency had a sexual harassment policy, but they were all over the place, and Dr. [and Rep. Barbara] Carpenter wanted stricter, more consistent standards,” Berry said. “She wrote a very good law, and it is working very well.”

Similarly, Rep. Ed Larvadain spoke about looking ahead. “We’re going to have to change how we deal with medical marijuana. But this is a first step.” He also requested that he be invited to work with Landry about finding a solution that would protect firefighters and law enforcement officers as well. “A lot of those men and women have chronic pains because over the years they’ve had to climb through windows and police officers have been abused,” Larvadain said.

Many advocates who spoke publicly in support of the bill at the meeting. Tony Landry, a council member of the Veterans Action Council, commented that neither law enforcement or firefighters are allowed to consume CBD, since “it can accumulate in your body over time and cause a positive test. I’m in favor of this bill, and I just think we need to leave no employee behind.”

Last summer, Louisiana decriminalized cannabis with Act 247, which imposed a fine of $100 (or a court summons) for possession of 14 grams or less. At the time, Peter Robins-Brown, policy & advocacy director at Louisiana Progress provided a statement about the news. “Marijuana decriminalization will truly make a difference in the lives of the people of our state,” Robins-Brown said. “It’s an important first step in modernizing marijuana policy in Louisiana, and it’s another milestone in the ongoing effort to address our incarceration crisis, which has trapped so many people in a cycle of poverty and prison. Now it’s time to make sure that everyone knows their rights under this new law, and that law enforcement officers understand how to properly implement it.”

However, earlier this year House Bill 700 was introduced to imprison minors who possessed small amounts of cannabis. On March 23, the Louisiana Progress Tweeted a response to the bill’s approach in keeping minors away from cannabis. “In #lalege Admin. of Crim. Justice, the cmte is hearing HB700 by @LarryBagleyLA, which would actually criminalize juveniles for possessing less than 14 grams of marijuana more harshly than adults, incl. potential jail time. Very very very very very very very bad idea. #lagov”. Currently, it is still waiting for discussion in the House.

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Politicians Supporting Cannabis and Putting ‘Fools’ in Their Place

Today is April Fool’s Day. While we could tell you some fake story about how weed is falling from the sky, we’d prefer to go in a different direction. The cannabis industry has come such a long way, and rather than discuss the fools who are still pushing against cannabis, we’d rather celebrate those who continue to shine a light on the plant while calling it like it is, unrelenting in their efforts to expand access to cannabis across the board. Here are just a few political advocates who are shooting for change.

Courtesy of Gary Chambers for Louisiana

Gary Chambers, Running for Senate in Louisiana

Although Gary Chambers is not yet a member of the Senate, we’d be hard-pressed not to include him given his advocacy on the subject of cannabis, among other topics. He announced his candidacy in January this year with a video of himself smoking a blunt and talking about the harms caused by the War on Drugs. Most recently, he spoke at the Chamber of Cannabis in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 10 about the long-term imprisonment of Kevin O’Brien Allen for a cannabis conviction and his approach to politics. 

“I didn’t get into politics to be a politician,” he shared. “Most of the people who came into my community with a suit and tie was lying … I don’t talk the way that the average politician talks, and I don’t produce content to tell voters what our message is, in the way that [an] average politician does so. Because I don’t think it’s transformative, and I don’t think it works.” 

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Kathy Hochul, Governor of New York

Many politicians approach their jobs with a no-nonsense approach, and Kathy Hochul has made some waves in favor of New York state’s cannabis program. In August 2021, she was appointed as the state’s first female governor and vowed to launch the cannabis industry that former Governor Andrew Cuomo stalled. 

In a press release on September 1, 2021, Hochul confirmed her intention to make cannabis a priority. “One of my top priorities is to finally get New York’s cannabis industry up and running—this has been long overdue, but we’re going to make up for lost time with the Senate confirmation of Tremaine Wright as Chair of the Cannabis Control Board and Christopher Alexander as Executive Director of the Office of Cannabis Management,” she stated. Most recently, she also implemented a Seeding Opportunity Initiative on March 10, which sets a goal for cannabis sales to begin by the end of 2022.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

John Fetterman, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor

Former Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania and current state Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman has long been advocating for cannabis legalization to help those who have been negatively affected by the War on Drugs. In May 2021, he questioned the country’s ban on the plant. 

“This isn’t controversial,” he shared on the topic of legalization. “Canada, the whole country has legalized, and somehow they managed to keep doing pretty darn well … they haven’t descended into anarchy, you know?” In an interview with Forbes in September 2021, he shared that cannabis legalization has “always been the right thing to do.” He’s currently running for Senator of Pennsylvania, the ballot window of which is approaching on May 17, 2022.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader

On the congressional level, Chuck Schumer is a familiar name with those following the many attempts to make cannabis federally legal. He introduced a bill for federal decriminalization in June 2018, and federal legalization in May 2019. In April 2021, he was done waiting for President Joe Biden to take a stance on cannabis and was ready to bring a cannabis bill to the senate floor. 

“We will move forward,” Schumer said. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.” As of February 4 while attending a press conference, he stated that he will once again focus on introducing another bill to tackle the issue this April. 

“In the coming weeks, we’re ramping up our outreach—and we expect to introduce final legislation. Our goal is to do it in April,” Schumer said at the press event. “Then we begin the nationwide push, spearheaded by New York, to get the federal law done. As majority leader, I can set priorities. This is a priority for me.”

Politicians
Courtesy of Shutterstock

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US House of Representative of New York

The initials “AOC” have been seen in many headlines since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez assumed her office in January 2019. During this time, she has been a vocal advocate on many issues, including cannabis and psychedelic therapies. In July 2021, she advocated for an amendment to allow the further study of substances such as MDMA, psilocybin and ibogaine as a potential medical treatment for certain conditions. 

In December 2021, Ocasio-Cortez and Congressman Dave Joyce introduced the HOPE (Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement) Act with the hopes of encouraging states to support cannabis expungement programs. “As we continue to advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, this bipartisan bill will provide localities the resources they need to expunge drug charges that continue to hold back Americans, disproportionately people of color, from employment, housing and other opportunity,” she said of the bill.

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Louisiana Mulls Locking Up Kids For Weed Again

Lawmakers in Louisiana are considering a bill that could put minors behind bars for possessing even small amounts of pot, less than a year after the state enacted legislation to end jail time for low-level cannabis possession convictions. The measure, House Bill 700, was introduced in the Louisiana House of Representatives by Republican state Representative Larry Bagley on March 4 and approved by a legislative committee last week.

Last year, the Louisiana legislature passed House Bill 652, a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. The bill was passed in June and went into effect in August, ending the possibility of jail time for possessing less than 14 grams of weed. The legislation was hailed by cannabis reform advocates including Peter Robins-Brown, policy and advocacy director at Louisiana Progress, a partnership between the Coalition for Louisiana Progress and Louisiana Progress Action Fund.

“Marijuana decriminalization will truly make a difference in the lives of the people of our state,” Robins-Brown said after the decriminalization bill was passed last year. “It’s an important first step in modernizing marijuana policy in Louisiana, and it’s another milestone in the ongoing effort to address our incarceration crisis, which has trapped so many people in a cycle of poverty and prison. Now it’s time to make sure that everyone knows their rights under this new law, and that law enforcement officers understand how to properly implement it.”

But now some of that progress is in jeopardy from Bagley’s bill, which would once again put jail time on the table for minors caught possessing small amounts of cannabis. The legislation would amend Louisiana’s decriminalization bill to resurrect jail time as a possible sentence for weed possession by young people, but would not affect the penalties imposed on adults convicted of the same offense.

Hard Labor for Half a Lid

Under HB 700, people under 18 caught with less than 14 grams of cannabis can be placed on probation or “imprisoned for not more than fifteen days” on the first conviction, according to the text of the legislation. For cases involving amounts of cannabis greater than 14 grams, a first conviction can put a kid behind bars for up to six months.

The penalties become more severe upon subsequent convictions. A minor’s second conviction for possessing up to 14 grams of cannabis can result in six months in jail. A third and fourth conviction subjects children to sentences of two and four years imprisonment, respectively, “with or without hard labor,” for possessing less than a half-ounce of weed.

Bagley has said that HB 700 is needed because schools in the state are having trouble keeping cannabis off of school grounds, according to the Louisiana Illuminator. He said that prosecutors have no way to force children into drug rehabilitation programs without the threat of incarceration and that judges are unlikely to incarcerate a minor for possession of small amounts of pot.

“It was presented like this bill is about trying to put people in prison. It’s not,” Bagley said.

But Robins-Brown, who is now the executive director of Louisiana Progress, said that school disciplinary action including suspension, expulsion or exclusion from athletics and other activities is a more appropriate way to address the problem.

“We don’t think we should be criminalizing youth more harshly than adults,” Robins-Brown said.

Megan Garvey with the Louisiana Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers noted that other options exist to compel minors into drug treatment. Under state law, family court judges can mandate parents or guardians place their children in treatment programs.

But the bill is receiving bipartisan support from lawmakers. State Representative Nicholas Muscarello voted in favor of HB 700 in committee despite generally supporting laws relaxing cannabis prohibition.

“We are trying to rehabilitate children. This allows our courts to kind of keep them in check and put them in drug courts,” said Muscarello. “No judge is putting a kid in jail for six months for marijuana.”

Although he also voted for the bill in committee, Republican state Representative Danny McCormick expressed concerns about HB 700’s revival of jail time for kids caught with weed. He questioned why the penalties were more severe than laws prohibiting possession of alcohol or tobacco by young people. Under Louisiana law, people under 21 can be fined up to $100 and lose their driver’s license for up to six months for possessing alcohol, while minors possessing cigarettes can be fined $50.

“Alcohol, in my opinion, would be greatly more harmful than marijuana,” McCormick said.

Last week, the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice approved HB 700 after amending the measure to include exceptions for minors who are registered medical cannabis patients possessing regulated cannabis products. On Monday, the bill was scheduled for a floor debate by the full Lousiana House of Representatives to be held on April 5.

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US Senate Candidates Embrace Cannabis Reform Issues in Campaign Strategy

With the 2022 election season already in full swing, candidates and political parties are busy creating their campaign strategies and communicating their views on key issues to voters. With many expecting this year’s midterm elections to be in large part a referendum on the Biden administration, candidates setting themselves apart from the pack could create a path to success. And for two Democratic candidates for the US Senate, cannabis reform has become a primary campaign issue of choice.

In Louisiana, Democratic candidate for US Senate Gary Chambers made headlines last month when he smoked a blunt in a campaign video. As a social justice advocate from Baton Rouge, Chambers used the video of him smoking marijuana in a New Orleans park to bring attention to the impact of cannabis prohibition, particularly on communities of color.

“Every 37 seconds, someone is arrested for possession of marijuana,” Chambers says in the video as the sound of a clock ticks down the seconds. “Since 2010, police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws. Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people.”

Louisiana has made some progress on cannabis reform, with lawmakers approving a 2015 bill to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana, albeit under one of the most restrictive programs in the nation. In 2020 the legislature approved further legislation to expand access to the program to more patients, and another bill passed in 2021 legalized smokable cannabis flower. The state has also begun work on marijuana decriminalization, with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signing legislation to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis last year. But Chambers, who hopes to win the US Senate seat now occupied by Republican Sen. John Kennedy, is interested in more than just legalization. He also wants to see cannabis use normalized.

“I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug, and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology,” he wrote in a tweet.

In a January 18 statement to CNN, Chambers said it is “long past due that politicians stop pretending to be better or different than the people they represent,” adding that it is time to reform the nation’s laws on cannabis possession. Chambers shot the add in New Orleans in part because of reforms passed in the city last year that ended penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana and pardoned approximately 10,000 past convictions.

If Chambers is successful in his quest to unseat Kennedy in the state’s November all-party primary, he hopes to see similar progress on cannabis reform at the national level. Despite making campaign pledges to decriminalize marijuana use and legalize the medicinal use of cannabis, President Joe Biden has so far failed to take a lead on the issue. Chambers believes that fellow Democrats should make sure Biden follows through on his promises.

“The party needs to lean on the president and get him to deschedule,” he told Forbes. “I would be a US senator who would support that.”

John Fetterman of Pennsylvania Also Running on Cannabis Reform

The social justice aspects behind cannabis legalization are also important to Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who has made pardons and executive clemency for prisoners convicted of cannabis offenses and other crimes priorities of his tenure as the state’s second-in-command and chair of the Board of Pardons. He has made legalizing weed—his preferred term for cannabis—a key issue of his campaign to win the US Senate seat being vacated this year by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Fetterman believes that marijuana should be available to those who want to use it medicinally, particularly veterans. And he is also quick to expound the economic benefits that come with cannabis reform, including creating a new recreational marijuana industry.

Fetterman is a staunch proponent of traditional Democratic values, including a strong middle class and support for labor’s right to bargain collectively. He is also a strong ally of more progressive issues such as LGBTQ rights and ending the War on Drugs. As Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, Fetterman has been on a mission to end cannabis prohibition. Pennsylvania approved medical marijuana in 2016 but calls to legalize adult-use cannabis have so far been rejected by the state legislature. In 2019, he made a 98-day tour to visit all 67 Pennsylvania counties for town hall meetings to gauge the residents’ views on legalizing recreational marijuana. After listening to Pennsylvanians from across the state share their opinions on the issue, Fetterman estimated that up to 70 percent support legalizing marijuana.

“Pennsylvania wants this. Pennsylvania’s farmers need this. Pennsylvania’s veterans need this. Pennsylvanians that have these ridiculous charges on their record need expungement and legalization,” Fetterman told Forbes last year. “Our job market needs it. Our treasury needs the billions in long-term revenue. There is literally not a single downside to legalization, and it’s all upside. And I’m just going to keep pushing that truth.”

With 60 percent of American adults now believing that cannabis should be legalized for medical and recreational use, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center Poll, marijuana policy reform is gaining attention and support from politicians. Both Democrats and Republicans have offered federal cannabis legalization plans, making reform an increasingly bipartisan issue. Whether it can be a decisive factor in political campaigns remains to be seen. With no Black candidate winning a statewide election in Louisiana since the Reconstruction, Chambers’ campaign to unseat a Republican looks like an uphill battle. But many pundits see Fetterman’s campaign in Pennsylvania as the Democrats best chance of breaking the 50-50 tie in the Senate.

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New Law Could Help Free Louisiana Man Serving Life in Prison For Cannabis

Kevin O’Brien Allen was caught selling $20 worth of cannabis to an undercover officer in 2012 and 2013. He was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014, but it was later extended under the state’s “habitual offender status” to life in prison without any chance of parole.

However, a new Louisiana law could provide Allen with a way to be released. La.C.Cr.P. art. 930.10a amends the current Code of Criminal Procedure Article to “relative to post conviction relief; to provide for a petitioner’s claim of factual innocence; to provide for exceptions; to provide for evidence; to provide for appointment of judges; to provide for motions of testing evidence; to provide for grounds for relief; to provide for burden of proof; to provide for joint motions; to provide for waiver; to provide for time limitations; and to provide for related matters.”

In an interview with The New Orleans Advocate in December 2021, Allen addressed the injustice he has experienced. “All I did was get set up from some drugs,” said he said. “I still feel to this day that I’m not supposed to be here.” Reports state that Allen is a father of two children, and had a steady job at the time of his conviction.

The new law would allow legal representatives such as District Attorney (DA) J. Schuyler Marvin for Bossier and Webster Parishes, to reduce Allen’s sentence and get him released. This is made possible by allowing the DA to “jointly enter into any post conviction plea agreement for the purpose of amending the petitioner’s conviction, sentence, or habitual offender status.”

The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) launched a campaign #FreeKevinAllen on February 15 to bring awareness to the situation. The organization provides pre-written scripts to contact local representatives such as District Attorney J. Schuyler Marvin, and Assistant District Attorneys Alexandra S. Aiello, Andrew Jacobs, John M. Lawrence and Richard R. Ray to petition their assistance in helping Allen’s case.

“In 2021, Louisiana passed a law decriminalizing medical marijuana so possession of up to 14 grams is only punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of jail time. Now, a newly-enacted law (La.C.Cr.P. art. 930.10) provides an avenue for Allen to remedy his protracted post-conviction litigation and instead work with you all in the DA’s office to come to a mutually agreed upon ‘post-conviction plea agreement,’” reads the LPP script. “In light of the minor nature of Allen’s offenses, marijuana’s growing legality, as well as time Kevin has already served, I’m respectfully urging DA Schuyler Marvin to use his authority to free Kevin Allen and allow him to return home to his supportive community.” Last Prisoner Project recently held a day of action on February 20, aka World Day of Social Justice, to generate momentum for those who are still spending time in prison for cannabis convictions.

According to Nola.com, there are approximately 4,100 Louisianans who are serving life in prison without parole, and of that number, 300 of them are labeled as “habitual offenders.” While there are an estimated 31 percent of Black people who live in the southern state, 66 percent of state prisoners are Black, and 73 percent of them are currently serving life in prison. Louisiana has long been criticized for its high incarceration rate, where data collected by the Prison Policy Initiative estimates that “it locks up a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth.”

Louisiana Senate candidate Gary Chambers Jr. also brought up the state’s outdated cannabis laws in his recent January campaign video. “Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people,” he said while smoking a joint. “States waste $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren’t dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me.”

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Utah Lawmaker Files Bill To Explore Therapeutic Use of Psychedelics

A Utah lawmaker has introduced a bill to explore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat serious mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and PTSD. The legislation, House Bill 167, was introduced on Tuesday by Utah state Representative Brady Brammer, who noted that the measure “doesn’t legalize anything.”

“It asks our Huntsman Mental Health Institute and other experts in the field to review the science that’s out there, the research that’s out there, and make any recommendations that they have if they feel psychedelics can be safely administered through a prescription basis and under what circumstances,” Brammer said in a television news interview.

If passed, HB 167 would direct the state’s Health and Human Services Department to create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force. The group would “study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness,” according to the text of the legislation. The legislation specifies the makeup of the task force, which would include mental health professionals, researchers and patients.

Although the bill does not specifically mention psychedelics or any particular drug, the task force would be authorized to “provide evidence-based recommendations on any psychotherapy drug that the task force determines may enhance psychotherapy when treating a mental illness.” The legislation would empower the task force to study the research into psychedelic drugs, which has shown the potential to treat serious mental health conditions.

“We need effective tools to treat mental illness,” Brammer said in a statement to local media. “If psychedelics can be helpful and safely administered, we need them in our toolbox.”

Cannabis Activists Support Utah Psychedelics Bill

Brammer’s bill is supported by groups that campaigned for Proposition 2, the 2018 ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Utah. Kylee Shumway, the medical director for the Utah Patients Coalition, said that psychedelics may be able to help residents of the state who are struggling with mental illness.

“We have higher rates of depression and anxiety than a lot of other states and even for people that are looking for help, there’s not enough psychiatrists; there’s not enough mental health professionals to help them,” said Shumway. “And a lot of the medications aren’t working.”

Research into psychedelics including psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine has shown that the drugs have potential therapeutic benefits, particularly for serious mental health conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. Research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2020 found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was an effective and quick-acting treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. A separate study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.

“It’s very promising,” Shumway exclaimed. “There are some huge studies that have just been finished recently on psilocybin that put it head to head against SSRIs which are antidepressants and psilocybin performed better across the board.”

“Utah has some of the finest researchers in the areas of psychiatry and neurosciences at Huntsman Mental Health Institute,” said Brammer. “This bill seeks to leverage that expertise, along with other experts grappling with mental illness, to review the research results, and if appropriate, make recommendations on how to safely administer these therapeutics under the care of qualified physicians.”

Steve Urquhart, a former Republican Utah state senator, also supports Brammer’s bill to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.

“Psychedelics changed my life,” he told local media. “It changed the way I see myself, the way I regard myself, and that allows me to see others and love others a lot more.”

Urquhart is the founder of The Divine Assembly, a Utah church that promotes religious and responsible use of psilocybin. 

“I’ve always been a bit of an activist at heart, and I decided I wanted to form a church where people can have these freedoms to worship with psychedelics,” Urquhart said. “I tell people, don’t get too lost on psychedelics; The Divine Assembly is about connection, and psychedelics can help with that.”

Urquhart believes that state lawmakers are likely to appreciate the cautious approach HB 167 takes to explore the benefits of psychedelics and may eventually support the legislation.

“Remember, this is Utah. Of course, we’re likely to take a slower approach to something like this,” he noted. “But on things like this, when the process runs, when it works, Utah can kind of come up with some magic. I’m optimistic about this.”

Brammer introduced HB 167 in the Utah House of Representatives on January 18. The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

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Louisiana Senate Candidate Gary Chambers Smokes Blunt in Campaign Video

A Louisiana politician who is running for a congressional seat is appealing to voters by showcasing his own personal cannabis use while addressing the failed War on Drugs. Louisiana Senate candidate Gary Chambers, released the video on YouTube entitled “37 Seconds” to sum up the problems with the War on Drugs and the need for social justice now—all while sitting in a chair smoking a blunt.

“Every 37 seconds, someone is arrested for marijuana. Since 2010, state and local police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws, Over half of all drug arrests,” he says in the video. “Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people. States waste $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren’t dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me.”

Courtesy Gary Chambers for Louisiana

Chambers expresses his confidence that he can stand up for the cannabis consumers of Louisiana if he becomes a Senate representative. “I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug, and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology,” Chambers wrote on social media channels.

Chambers announced his run for U.S. Senate on January 12, citing the need for change. “I’m running for the U.S. Senate because Louisiana continues to be ranked last in the nation. That is more a reflection of our leaders than our people,” he wrote of the current regime. Furthermore, he pointed out that it has been 149 years since a Black man served in the “statewide office” in Louisiana. The last Black man, P.B.S. Pinchback was governor of the state between December 9, 1872 through January 13, 1873. “Let’s not wait another 100 years before another Black person is elected statewide in Louisiana.”

In the past, Chambers has made himself known as an advocate for social justice. In March 2021 he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, but lost in the special election to Troy Carter. He also shared his support both for the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, as well as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

Gary Chambers Jr. YouTube

Chambers’ video is a brief but bold display of the reality of cannabis in a modern age, and the drawbacks that the stigma still perpetuates. However, he isn’t the only politician who has embraced cannabis to appeal to voters.

In 2019, a Illinois House candidate Anthony Clark smoked a joint while discussing the need for honesty. “I think I have to be just as open about my cannabis use, you know? Because lying to individuals, I think, plays a direct role in enabling status quo, in enabling the oppressors, the top one percent, to remain,” Clark said in an interview. “We have to empower ourselves. We have to educate ourselves. I don’t hide this at all. I tell people on a daily basis, cannabis saved my life, it continues to save my life.”

Likewise, the presence of cannabis is being used elsewhere to help educate and normalize cannabis for other lawmakers. A Mississippi legislator brought an ounce of hemp to the state governor to demonstrate how little it is, and how much more medical patients could require to be properly treated for their ailments.

Sales for cannabis flower in Louisiana only just began on January 1, 2022, finally bringing the reality of medical cannabis to patients in Louisiana after it was originally approved by legislators in 2015. Currently, patients with one or more qualifying conditions can received approval from their doctor to use medical cannabis.

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