Since cannabis legislation passed in Canada in 2018, an increasing number of people have begun experimenting with its non-psychoactive products. Many Canadians are now accepting the idea that cannabis is not only a means to get you high but can bring relief in a multitude of ways. Topical cannabis creams, balms, and oils are a […]
Delta-8 has caused quite a stir in the world of cannabis, with federal and state governments trying to find ways to cope with this new entrant into the products field. As laws are being put in place to keep it out, a new question becomes, is delta-8 THC a recreational or medicinal product?
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What is delta-8 THC?
Before we get into specifics about it, and whether delta-8 should be considered recreational or medicinal, let’s go over what delta-8 THC is, for anyone who hasn’t been following along with the current controversy. Delta-8 THC is both an isomer and analogue of delta-9 THC, the standard THC of marijuana that people associate with getting high. Delta-9 doesn’t actually exist in large amounts in fresh cannabis flowers, rather its precursor THCA does. THCA decarboxylates when it comes into contact with heat, or over time, losing a carboxyl group (COOH) to form delta-9 THC.
The chemical transformation is this: C22H30O4 –> C₂₁H₃₀O₂. However, we already know about delta-9 THC, what we want to know about, is delta-8. Once the delta-9 THC comes into contact with oxygen, it loses electrons, a process called oxidation. This process transforms delta-9 into delta-8. The loss of electrons makes the compound more stable, meaning delta-8 has a longer shelf life than delta-9. The chemical structure is identical for both.
Delta-8 is an isomer of delta-9 because it actually has the same chemical structure, with a different configuration of atoms within. It’s an analogue of delta-9 because it is structurally and functionally (medically) nearly identical. For this reason, delta-8 and delta-9 THCs are often cited as being useful to treat the same ailments.
Delta-8 THC was discovered at the same time as delta-9 THC. Roger Adams did a partial synthesis in 1941, followed by Raphael Mechoulam who synthesized the compound in 1965. It was used in a number of studies including one in 1974 that showed anti-cancer properties, and this 1995 one by Mechoulam, which showed its ability to stop nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. This was all swept under the rug.
Why do we care about this?
As stated, delta-8 was discovered way back when delta-9 was, so why are we starting to talk about it now? Because for a time, it appeared that delta-8 fit into a loophole that allowed its legal sale, which meant getting around the illegality of delta-9. This all happened because the 2018 US Farm Bill legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp, and the production of products made from it. As part of this – and the definition of hemp in general, stipulations were put in place as to how much THC a hemp plant could have and still be legal. In the US, it’s officially .3% in dry weight. The definition of ‘hemp’ is as follows:
“…the plant Cannabis Sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
Since the definition of hemp specifically mentions delta-9, it was thought that delta-8 was not included. Since delta-8 can be sourced from any delta-9, even from low-THC hemp plants, it was thought that so long as the plants sourced from had below that .3% of delta-9, that delta-8 coming from it would be legal. The DEA put out its Interim Final Rule in 2020 to help smooth some Farm Bill wrinkles, but made no mention of delta-8. What it did say, was a reiteration that synthetics were never included in the definition of hemp.
Why does this matter? Delta-8 oxidizes from delta-9 at an extremely slow rate. So, though it does exist naturally in nature, it does so in such small amounts that its not useful. In order to have enough to use in products, human processing help is required, which means that it is being at least partially synthesized by humans. The Interim Final Rule didn’t specify if this would constitute ‘synthetic’. Neither did the subsequent USDA Final Rule in 2021.
Legally there was never a reason for further mention, as there was never actually a loophole. This is because an analogue of a Schedule I substance is also a Schedule I substance according to the 1986 Controlled Substances Analogue Act. Delta-9 THC is already a controlled substance through the 1980 Controlled Substances Act. Apart from this, its human processing likely constitutes it as synthetic, which means it was never covered by the Farm Bill. Regardless, the US government did do something.
What did end up happening, is that the US government finally added ‘delta-8 THC’ to the Controlled Substances list as another name for ‘tetrahydrocannabinols’. This came with a Schedule I listing under DEA criminal code number 7370. Which effectively illegalized it on a federal level. Funny enough, individual states are still doing their best to illegalize delta-8 separately, even though it is thoroughly federally illegal at this point. Technically, only a state that already has recreational cannabis would have to worry about a separate illegalization, unless the idea is to illegalize it preemptively. An example is Texas, which doesn’t have recreational cannabis, but which just floated a bill which criminalizes delta-8.
Difference between delta-8 and delta-9 THCs
As explained, the two compounds are isomers of each other, meaning they have the same chemical structure, but a different placement of atoms within the structure. The only structural difference is the placement of a double bond. In delta-9 THC it sits on the 9th carbon atom in the chain, and in delta-8 THC it sits on the 8th carbon atom. This minor difference doesn’t create a huge variance in what the compounds do, with delta-8 also being considered an analogue which means it not only has an identical chemical structure, but is nearly identical pharmacologically and medicinally as well.
When it comes to things like anti-inflammatory properties, nausea and vomiting prevention, anxiety and sleep issues, anti-cancer benefits, and dealing with neurodegenerative diseases (among a host of other benefits), the two compounds have similar effects in medical testing. However, the placement of that double bond does a few things to make delta-8 separate from delta-9, some of which make the question of whether it is recreational or medicinal, that much more relevant.
Delta-9 is known to help with anxiety, however, it is also known to produce anxiety and paranoia in some users. Delta-8 doesn’t seem to do this, meaning users don’t have to worry about having a bad experience in the same way. This is a major benefit for medicinal users who don’t want to add anxiety onto their list of problems.
Delta-8 is associated with a more clear-headed high, and more energy for the user. Delta-9 is known to couch lock people at times, leaving them with no energy or motivation to move. Delta-8 doesn’t do this, also making it a preferable choice for medical patients who don’t want to lose their ability to get things done during treatment.
Lastly, delta-8 is indeed psychoactive, but not as psychoactive as delta-9. This was established in the 1970’s during testing. It was found that delta-8 is 2:3 the potency of delta-9 THC, both when taken orally or intravenously. This is also beneficial for medical patients who are not looking to deal with a powerful psychoactive high during treatment.
Is delta-8 recreational or medicinal?
To be honest, there’s no real definition for delta-9 as far as recreational or medicinal. For some people its one, and for some it’s the other. Delta-8 is similar, some recreational smokers will appreciate the lack of anxiety, some medical users will appreciate the lesser high. Simply because delta-8 comes with less high, less anxiety, and less couch locking, it presents a lesser recreational strength, but a higher medicinal one.
Which brings up the question of why its being banned by different states. When Colorado banned it, the State’s health department made this statement: “Chemically modifying or converting any naturally occurring cannabinoids from industrial hemp is non-compliant with the statutory definition of ‘industrial hemp product.’” This seems to back up that delta-8 is viewed as synthetic. The agency went on to say:
“Insufficient evidence exists to determine whether or not any toxic or otherwise harmful substances are produced during these reactions and may remain in the regulated industrial hemp products ingested or applied/used by consumers… Therefore, these tetrahydrocannabinol isomers are not allowed in food, dietary supplements or cosmetics.”
This statement clearly makes it a health issue, with the government stating a fear that ‘toxic or otherwise harmful substances’ might be ingested by users. While this fear is valid, worthwhile, and good to have, it only really stipulates a need for regulating delta-8 processing, since the compound itself has never been identified as dangerous.
This can be put in perspective, though. No one has died from delta-8 THC, but plenty of people have died from opiate overdoses in the US. In fact, there have been approximately ½ million reported overdose deaths between 1999-2019, in an epidemic started by the same government that now wants to tell you it cares about processing techniques for a drug with no death count. And opiates haven’t been outlawed in Colorado, or anywhere else in the US.
The likelier answer to me, is that delta-8 THC is being blocked from recreational use and the general market, so that a pharmaceutical version can come out without competition. After all, if delta-9 has medical applications, so does delta-8. And delta-8’s are way better for the medical community.
Is delta-8 THC a recreational or medicinal drug? Well, it’s a little bit of both. It’s great for recreational users who want to feel good without going overboard, and its great for medical patients who don’t want to be out of their minds while getting treatment. It would be very sad if after all this, delta-8 got put back on a shelf to be forgotten. However, I think there’s a better chance that in the near future, delta-8 will be the next pharmaceutical darling.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.
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With 2017 legislation, Argentina joined the growing number of South American countries to relax cannabis laws. At the end of 2020, that legislation was expanded, and now finally, Argentina allows cannabis self-cultivation for medical use.
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Cannabis in Argentina
Cannabis is not legal for recreational use in Argentina, but small amounts of it were decriminalized back in 2009. In the Arriola decision, which was the result of a court case arising from the arrest of five men, the court determined that small amounts of drugs meant for personal use, that won’t affect or cause harm to anyone else, and which pose no threat of danger, are decriminalized. There is no official amount set for personal use, meaning law enforcement and judges must use their own discretion per case.
Much like Mexico and South Africa, which each have constitutional rulings related to cannabis and the right of an individual to live life as they see fit without intrusion from the government, Argentina’s court ruled that “Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state.” The decision was also meant to encourage law enforcement money to be spent on bigger cases, while leaving small-time users to enter treatment programs instead.
Cannabis trafficking is illegal in Argentina and can incur a penalty of 4-15 years in prison. It’s illegal for residents to grow marijuana for commercial purposes.
Medical bill 2017
On the 29th of March, 2017, Argentina’s senate approved legislation for the legalization of medical cannabis. The bill requires those in need of cannabis medications to register with the country’s national program, which is overseen by the Ministry of Health. Not only that, the government actually set it up to provide free access of these medications to patients and children approved for their use.
The reason it’s free is because the medical ‘program’ was set up under the bill as a research initiative called the National Program for the Study and Research of the Medicinal Use of the Cannabis Plant and its By-products and Non-conventional Treatments. By law, patients have to be enrolled in the program, and the program allows for medical cannabis oil to be provided to patients free of charge. This law did not technically institute a structured market, leaving the only way to access these medications through the government run program.
Besides starting government run cultivation, the law did something else. It instituted the Cannabis Exceptional Access Regime which allows the import of medications with cannabis by-products into the country for verified patients with epilepsy. This provision, as it was written in 2017, does not cover other disorders that can be treated with cannabis medicines. Only licensed physicians, specifically neurology specialists, are able to make such requests on behalf of their patients under this provision.
Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation
When the bill was passed in 2017, cultivation carried a sentence of up to two years. While it was pushed for this bill to include a provision for self-cultivation, Argentinian legislators did not include it in the bill, restricting the ability for sick people to grow their own marijuana. By many, including activist group Mama Cultiva – which helped lead the way for this legalization, this was a major failing in an otherwise big step in the right direction.
In early November 2020, a decree was published in the Official Gazette making the statement that Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation for medical purposes. The government legalized personal cultivation, along with legalizing the sale of cannabis products (creams and oils) in pharmacies. The decree was signed by President Alberto Fernández, and states that there should be “timely, safe, inclusive and protective access for those who need to use cannabis as a therapeutic tool.” He added that a regulatory framework must be set up quickly to do so. Though the decree made the statement that Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation, it did not detail how many plants an individual could grow, stating that this information would be announced later.
Patients, or groups, who want to access products in pharmacies, or cultivate cannabis plants, must still be registered with the ‘National Cannabis Programme’, through Reprocann – the Registry for the Cannabis Program, which was originally instituted by the 2017 legislation, but which was never actually operational due to a lack of regulation to govern it. When patients register, they can choose to cultivate their own marijuana, buy from a solidary grower, or obtain products through a pharmacy.
It’s good to remind here that simply passing a bill, or signing a decree, does not institute a regulated market. This decree updated the bill passed in 2017, but didn’t do more to offer a regulatory framework, which means in order for these things to happen, more laws have to be passed to provide details for actual usage. Even so, it’s nice to have the law on the books.
This new decree also expands the ability to import cannabis medicines. Whereas the Cannabis Exceptional Access Regime only applied to epilepsy patients when the 2017 bill was passed, this has now been expanded to include other ailments like fibromyalgia, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and other diseases and disorders that have shown to be helped by cannabis medicines. The government will continue to promote production of cannabis for medical treatments, and, in the same spirit as giving it out to patients for free, will guarantee availability of medications, even to patients who do not have standard health coverage.
According to Prohibition Partners (via Forbes), apart from helping sick people get the medicine they need, and expanding laws so that Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation, the cannabis market in Argentina could be worth as much as $40 million in sales by 2024. An increase in revenue has been a strong reason for legalization in other locations, and very likely was an even more powerful motivator than a group of mothers with sick children.
Mama Cultiva and the activists
Argentina is home to a group of influential activists known as Mama Cultiva. As the name implies, this group was started as a group of mothers trying to get medicine for their sick children. Mama Cultiva is an NGO that was originally founded in Chile in 2016, and has been working towards cannabis legalization since that time, both in fighting for new legislation, and providing educational information about cannabis.
Mama Cultiva was a strong force behind the 2017 legalization, and at the time was quite dismayed that cultivation was not given the green light. In light of this new legislation, Mama Cultiva’s Argentina chapter head Valeria Salech said “We’ve been fighting for this for three years… We’re no longer going to be criminalized for seeking a better quality of life for ourselves and our loved ones.”
She explained in a separate statement, “It’s not a law on usage. It doesn’t regulate cannabis. It’s a research law, and the fact that we can insert a mini-regulation in that research law for those of us who grow (the plant) for our health is a big deal.” Mama Cultiva is not just fighting for medical usage, but full recreational legalization, as the organization views it as important for mental health in general.
To give an example of the level of dedication of Mama Cultiva, and why they are so committed, consider that the woman who made these statements, Valeria Salech, has a now 14-year-old son with both epilepsy and autism, who has been using cannabis treatments for six years.
This desire for greater legalization is echoed by the Argentine Cannabis Confederation, a group of pro-legalization product producers that are involved with the production of things like cannabis infused beer, and marijuana growing supplies. This group, which was upset by not being involved in the debates to determine draft legislation, thinks that the current law still doesn’t reach far enough.
Group president Leandro Ayala reminded “We don’t know what’s going to happen with low-level possession, which is what’s hurting us at the moment, the fact that we can be arrested for carrying two marijuana cigarettes.” He did say that he believes the cannabis industry could benefit from self-cultivation, especially in the form of supplying to these home-growers, but was still concerned overall about the issue of minor possession still being illegal.
He went on to point out that cannabis use shouldn’t have to be associated with sickness, and stated about the recent update in laws: “I don’t celebrate that because you’re only going to be able to grow if you’re sick, and in my case I don’t feel like a sick person. I use (cannabis) recreationally. Why do I have to use the shield of saying I have a pathology in order to grow when that’s not true?”
In a way, Argentina just tripped over its own toes, but not in the worst manner. Before even fully setting its 2017 legislative measures into workable motion, Argentina went ahead and updated them. That Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation is great. Going at this rate of updating that which hasn’t even been fully instituted, I can only imagine that a recreational legalization really isn’t too far off in the distance.
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When we think of the legalization of cannabis, it is not a short, concise, or simple story. And each step forward has been the result of some kind of governmental policy change due to changing opinions, or legal consequences as the result of a person’s actions. In this article we’re going back to the re-introduction of medical cannabis in America, which all started in the 70’s with Robert Randall, when he beat the U.S. in court.
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Who is this guy?
There really wasn’t anything terribly special about Robert Randall for the first part of his life. He was born in 1948 in Sarasota Florida, and attended the University of South Florida as a political science major starting at age 19, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in speech and a master’s degree in rhetoric. During this time he started to realize issues with his vision. He would see halos with different colors around lights, his vision would get fuzzy, and he experienced white-blindness – or achromatopsia, a form of color blindness that makes it difficult to distinguish any colors at all. Randall did go to the doctor to investigate these vision issues, but due to his age, he was told it was a result of stress.
After he graduated from university, Randall moved to Washington, DC where he took up as a cab driver. Around 1972, he realized that if he closed his left eye, he was no longer able to read out of his right eye. It didn’t matter if the writing was close up to his face, or several inches away. This time when he went to an ophthalmologist, he was finally given the diagnosis of glaucoma.
There is no cure for glaucoma today, which means there sure wasn’t any back then. Not only was Randall given this diagnosis, but he was told he would go fully blind in three to five years. As with most conditions with no real workable treatment, glaucoma sufferers are generally put on medications to try to preserve eyesight for as long as possible. Then and now, such medications are associated with pain, chronic fatigue, kidney issues, and more. Randall was thoroughly unhappy with the situation.
What is glaucoma?
Before getting farther into Randall’s story, let’s take a look at his affliction to get a better idea of what he was suffering from. Glaucoma is the name given to a number of eye conditions that specifically target and damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve sits in the back of the eye and is responsible for the transfer of visual information from the retina of the eye, to the vision center of the brain, which is does through electrical impulses. The optic nerve itself does not make sense of the information coming in, but rather acts as a vital link in the chain, passing on information to the brain where it can be deciphered.
It’s like a waiter writing down your order at a restaurant and then taking it back to the kitchen where the chef can decode it to prepare the meal. Imagine what would happen if the waiter hurt his leg and could only limp back and forth. Or if he disappeared altogether. There would be no way to get the information from the eaters, all the way to the chefs. It suffices to say that a well-functioning optic nerve is necessary for good vision.
One of the ways glaucoma damages the optic nerve, is with abnormally high pressure. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in those 60 years of age and older, and while it does usually target older generations, it can occur at any age.
I can actually account for this myself, having had high eye pressures nearly my entire life (also affected by the thickness of the cornea, or in my case, the thinness of the cornea). My grandfather was nearly completely blind when he died with glaucoma a couple years ago, my uncle was just as lucky as Robert Randall, being diagnosed in his college years, and my mother actually required holes drilled in her corneas to relieve the pressure. It does say quite a bit for modern medicine that my mother and her brother have not lost their vision…yet. Loss of vision from glaucoma cannot be recovered. Most people with this affliction lose their vision gradually, and often problems aren’t realized until way too late.
There are two types of glaucoma, they are defined by the angle created by the iris (the part of the eye with color) and the cornea, which is the outer layer that covers the eye. Open-angle glaucoma refers to when the iris is in the right place, but fluid is kept from appropriately exiting, creating a build-up of pressure. Kind of like having a clogged drain. In closed-angle glaucoma, the iris itself is usually misshapen or damaged, causing it to be squeezed against the cornea. This also blocks the ability for moisture to leave, allowing for a build-up of pressure. Open-angle is substantially more common.
If you are concerned you might have an eye issue like glaucoma, please consult your family physician or a specialist. Some basic warning signs to be aware of:
Open-angle – patchy blind spots in central or peripheral vision, in one or both eyes. Tunnel vision when advanced stages are reached.
Closed-angle (narrow-angle, acute-angle) – intense headaches, eye pain, blurry vision, halos around lights, eye redness, nausea and vomiting.
And now back to Robert Randall
Robert Randall had smoked marijuana before, and remembered that it had helped with eye strain previously. Around 1973 he realized that smoking cannabis did, indeed, help his eyesight. In fact, remember those halos he was seeing around lights? He found that smoking cannabis helped eliminate them. He found such relief from cannabis that he eventually started growing it himself to cut down on costs. In early 1975, marijuana plants were found on his back porch, and in August of that year, he was busted for simple possession of cannabis. At this time, cannabis was 100% illegal for recreational or medical use in the U.S., and not one state had a medical marijuana policy. The use of cannabis had been outlawed since the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.
Randall decided to fight back. He went in front of the court and presented a medical defense that even his lawyer was not behind, stating that smoking marijuana helped to minimize his suffering from glaucoma. This was a completely novel claim at the time. But Randall persevered, finding research conducted through UCLA that supported his claim, and going through a litany of tests to prove his point.
The United States vs Randall
There are plenty of landmark cases in U.S. legal history, and this case is certainly one of them. In 1976, Robert Randall went up against the US federal government using a medical necessity defense for his use of marijuana. Through the case it was found that according to the original diagnosing doctor, Doctor Fine, that the drugs being used to treat his glaucoma were completely ineffective by 1974 due to increased resistance.
Once on trial, he became a participant in experimental programs led by Dr. Hepler who worked for the US government. Dr. Hepler testified in court that Randall was not being helped by the medications, and that surgery was a dangerous idea as it could result in immediate blindness. In fact, the main result of the medical tests was that marijuana smoke did reduce his visual problems, and had a beneficial effect on his overall condition.
The court ruled in Randall’s favor as it found he met all the requirements for a necessity defense, and that he had not caused his own blindness. Judge James A. Washington of the D.C. Superior Court stated when Randall beat the U.S. “…the evil he sought to avert, blindness, is greater than that he performed.” When Robert Randall beat the U.S., he became the first person in the U.S. since 1937 who could legally smoke marijuana. And not just smoke it, but have it provided to him by the U.S. government. Something that continued until his death on June 2nd 2001 due to AIDS complications.
Around the same time that Randall beat the U.S. in court and the charges were dismissed, Randall’s attorneys were successful in petitioning the FDA to have him participate in a research program that would allot him 10 joints a day. This was fine, though Randall often complained about the quality of the government marijuana, claiming it tasted metallic and that street cannabis was better. Then in 1978, his eye doctor moved states and Randall was abruptly dropped from the program. So, what did he do? In 1978 Randall successfully sued the U.S. government to be included in the program once more! Yes, Randall beat the U.S. government again. In fact, this means Randall beat the U.S. government twice. First defensively, and then offensively.
Randall wasn’t just out for himself, he became one of the leading cannabis activists of the time. He travelled around lecturing – even risking his own ability to access cannabis, as well as pushing for legal change. Between 1978-1980, he was an instrumental aide in enacting 30 different laws throughout the States that recognized the medical benefits of cannabis, and also helped establish programs to provide medical cannabis access to patients. Most were never actually active though as the federal government fought hard to close them.
In 1981 he founded the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, a non-profit which pushed for greater legal freedoms when it comes to medical marijuana. He even drafted legislation for the 97th congress for the fair and compassionate use of medical marijuana. Hearings were never heard on it, but it did attract 110 co-sponsors including a young Newt Gingrich.
In the 1990’s he began focusing more on AIDS, likely because of his own situation of being diagnosed with AIDS in 1994. He established MARS – the Marijuana AIDS Research Service to help those with AIDS obtain cannabis for medicine. Hundreds of patients went to access this service, and though it was initially approved by the government, it was abruptly closed, even though requests had been given the okay. This left a lot of sick people with no means for legal, useful, cannabis medication, and public outrage over it led to different states eventually offering up ballot measures. It’s what helped drive California to pass Proposition 215 in 1996, becoming the first state to have an instituted medical marijuana program (which came well after Virginia allowed medical use in a drug bill, but never put it into action).
Randall also authored six books, one of which was about his plight. Co-authored with his partner Alice O’Leary, the book is entitled Marijuana RX: the Patients Fight for Medical Pot. He died in 2001 in the same city he was born, Sarasota, Florida. He was 53 years old.
Robert Randall’s name is not one of the more well-known when it comes to legal antics or cannabis, yet he proved himself to be one of the most important figures in the re-establishment of medical marijuana. As medical legalization policies sprout up all over the world, and as medical cannabis was just rescheduled according to the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Substances, perhaps we should take a minute to give a little thankful appreciation to one of the heroes that helped make it happen. So thank you Robert Randall, for having the intelligence, motivation, and drive to beat the U.S. in court, and for fighting to help those in need.
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When it comes to Virginia and cannabis, Virginia didn’t see any big changes with the last US election. This is because the state had already decriminalized cannabis earlier this spring, and expanded on its own medical legalization policy this past summer. However, there’s one other thing when it comes to Virginia and cannabis, something that’s often misunderstood. Virginia was actually the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana, back in 1979.
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Was Virginia really first?
Indeed it was! And it went through with practically no buzz at all. In 1979, Virginia did an overhaul of its drug laws which included the inclusion of the use of cannabis medicines for people specifically suffering from glaucoma and cancer. The medical legalization allowed patients with these illnesses to receive the medications, but wasn’t expanded on past that point for many, many years. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017 that the bill was finally expanded to include more conditions and generally looser policies. It was updated yet again in the summer of 2020.
So, what happened to the bill? Not much. The issue with legalizations is that they don’t come compact with finished frameworks for regulation. They merely state the decision to change the legality of a specific thing. Once the status is changed, especially when a former black-market product becomes a regular market product, there has to be some kind of setup for how it’ll work. Will it be taxed, at what rate, and by what entity? How can it be used exactly, and where? Are there age restrictions? What’s the cost, and is there a cost ceiling? Where can the product come from, and what are the regulations for producing it?
These things and more must be figured out, and if they aren’t, the legalization is open to much debate in court, apart from the fact that it stymies the ability to have an operational industry. For years the law sat, practically unknown to the Board of Medicine, attorney general, or court system in general.
To say that it passed quietly is true, but this didn’t stop its near repeal two decades later. In 1996, upon California’s debate to legalize cannabis for medical use, Virginia suddenly became more aware of its own cannabis standing, and there was a major political fight that made it look like the bill would be repealed. One of the issues that led to this attempt to repeal, was that the law as it was written, allowed any doctor to recommend cannabis use, not just doctors in the state. It was probably written like this originally, because no other state had a legalization policy. In the end, it wasn’t repealed, but that didn’t mean much.
Why did no one hear about Virginia and its new-age cannabis policy back in the late 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s? Because it just sat there. No body to oversee anything, no laws on the books. Just a legalization that hung out there, essentially doing nothing. And barely being noticed until California did its thing.
How are California and Virginia different?
When people say that California was the first to pass a medical cannabis bill, in a way it is true. Virginia was the first state to allow any kind of cannabis use medically, but that was really a part of a much bigger bill. Sort of an afterthought to it.
California, on the other hand, crafted a bill specifically for the use of cannabis in medicine. Called the Medical Use of Marijuana Initiative (or, The Compassionate Use Act), not only was it a bill centered around medical marijuana use specifically, but it was a ballot measure which was voted in by its people through Proposition 215. Virginians never knew that their laws were tweaked to allow medical cannabis use in 1979, it was never put out there for them, voted on by them, or explained to them in any way.
For California, it wasn’t a tiny add-on to another bill, but rather its own. In that way, California was most certainly the first US state to craft and pass its own medical cannabis bill, centered on cannabis, and about medical cannabis only. For anyone who thinks this makes it the first cannabis legalization, this would be incorrect, and it goes back to Virginia earning that title. Unfortunately, the title meant very little as the state dragged its feet to institute the policy.
Where else can this be seen?
Mexico is a great example of this right now. In 2018, the country legalized recreational cannabis use through its court system, which forced the legislative system to come up with laws to match the judiciary system. The laws were due out quite some time ago, but for various reasons have been postponed repeatedly, with the current date not until the spring. This leaves Mexico in a weird legal limbo. Some things like selling and trafficking are always illegal (and don’t require new legislation). Other things like use and possession are more fluid. How much a person has and what they’re doing with it, could mean the difference between a jail sentence, paying a fine, and nothing at all. The world has been watching Mexico and waiting for the outcome, for Virginia, there were no eyes on it, and so a suspended animation was created for decades with no movement.
States like New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana are in the same boat. All four just changed their legalizations policies for medical, recreational, or both, in the last election, meaning they have new laws, but no framework yet to use them. The idea is always to get the regulations hammered out quickly so as not to maintain a system where there is legal ambiguity. After all, if someone gets arrested for an act now that has technically been made legal, but which has no actual laws to govern it, it creates a gray area that can be argued extensively in court.
Post elections, it was announced that the governor of Virginia was pushing for an adult-use recreational policy. When states like California, Oregon, and Maine went legal, it wasn’t a huge surprise, but Virginia would be the first southern state to legalize marijuana, highlighting a major shift in overall thought regarding cannabis policy.
Virginia is a southern state, with a cannabis decriminalization policy that was signed by the governor in May 2020, and went into effect July 1st. The law (SB2 and HB 972) decriminalizes up to an ounce of cannabis. Virginia can swing red or blue, and like other states – both north and south – has both a strong conservative and liberal foundation. When looking at the other US locations that have legalized for recreational use, they all have one thing in common, they are not in the south, and have generally stronger liberal bases. There have been more medical legalizations in these states (West Virginia has one, Mississippi just voted one in), but many of the holdout states like Georgia and South Carolina (no medicinal legalization, recreational legalization, or decriminalization measures), are in the south.
Virginia is not the only southern state to decriminalize. It joins Mississippi, which decriminalized small amounts of cannabis in 1978; and Missouri which decriminalized up to 10 grams in 2014. But, if Virginia actually passes a recreational cannabis measure, it’ll be the first southern state to do so.
When it comes to new cannabis legalization measures, there are many firsts, and not all of them are terribly impressive. Virginia could have been a massively trailblazing state, but instead passed a huge legalization measure for the time, and then essentially went and took a nap for two decades. When it comes to Virginia and cannabis, it’s a story of not just the overall change in legalization policies, but the idea that such policies are reaching down to places that have been holding onto their marijuana illegalization laws very tightly. Just the fact that the legalization passed in 1979 says something, just like Virginia being one of only a few states in the region to consider cannabis legalizations of any kind. If Virginia legalizes cannabis recreationally, it’ll go back to being the first. In this case, the first southern state to break away and change course.
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More and more countries have been loosening their policies when it comes to the non-psychoactive component of cannabis – CBD (cannabidiol). With a new amendment waiting for final approval, Israel says CBD is not dangerous, and is expected next week to remove it from its Dangerous Drugs Ordinance.
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When it comes to cannabis, Israel is not the most lax country when it comes to regulation. However, this undermines the fact that Israel is about the most far ahead when it comes to medical research concerning cannabis. With the help of Raphael Mechoulam, whose work was roundly ignored for decades, and who in the more recent environment of cannabis acceptance has now been lauded for his work, Israel has been the world leader in cannabis research. This did not stop the drug from being completely illegal recreationally, with no personal use laws until only the last couple years. Now, in a move that shows its ready to play catch-up for real, Israel not only is discussing plans for a recreational legalization, but is set to remove CBD from its list of dangerous drugs, with the expectation that CBD products will soon be lining supermarket shelves.
Current Israeli cannabis laws
Israel only instituted a decriminalization policy for cannabis in 2019, which affords personal use rights for small amounts in the home. The term ‘small amounts’ was defined by the Anti-Drug Authority as 15 grams. Public use and possession still results in a fine of 1000 NIS, or $307 (by today’s conversion), though this is a vast improvement from what it was before, when offenders could be required to pay as much as 226,000 NIS, or $69,479 (by today’s conversion). The 1000 NIS is just for a first offense, and doubles with the second offence, and turns into a criminal act on the third. This comes with the loss of a drivers’ license and/or gun as well. Minors under the age of 18 who reject a treatment program when caught, can still be subjected to jail time.
Like pretty much anywhere in the world, selling and supply crimes are illegal, and offenders can find themselves with 20-year prison sentences. This can be increased to 25 years in the case of extenuating circumstances, like selling to a minor. Cultivation is technically illegal, but also seems to fall into gray area. According to the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, growing can carry up to 20 years. In 2017, the publication Cannabis made public that there had been an order issued which stated that growing small amounts for personal use would only be seen as a minor violation. This was meant to be a way to separate large-scale, and small-scale growers. However, this order was obviously never meant to be public, and when Cannabis put out the news, the response from law enforcement was that no change had legally been made.
When it comes to medical, Israel legalized medicinal use in 1999, this coming 3-4 decades after the initial release of groundbreaking studies into the medical attributes of cannabis. First it was limited to terminal patients with cancer or AIDS, until the law was updated in 2007 by the Israeli Ministry of Health, which broadened the scope of the program to allow more ailments to be treated with cannabis. In 2019, a bill was introduced to allow the exportation of medical cannabis internationally.
So, what’s the deal with CBD?
While it almost seemed like CBD was going to get an international pass when the UN recently voted on cannabis rescheduling measures, the result was only a removal of cannabis from schedule IV, with no further clarification on CBD. Even so, Israel is treating it as if that clarification was made, saying CBD is not dangerous, and does not need to be treated like it is.
In 2016 it was first brought up in Israel’s Knesset to remove CBD from Israel’s list of dangerous drugs, where it has been since 1973. Notice how this article is being written now and not in 2016, as it is only just now up for removal in 2020. While plenty of CBD products are sold in Israel, this removal would open up use even further. In August of this year, the Minister of Health approved the removal of CBD from the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance. Next week, the Knesset Health Committee is expected to give the final approval for this to go into effect. Assuming this happens, regulation of CBD will then fall under the Ministry of Health’s Medical Cannabis Unit. The Ministry of Health had been investigating the idea of removing CBD for years, with Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish working to accelerate the pace to move things forward. Kish has been working on this for quite some time, along with bringing down the price of medical cannabis in Israel.
Once CBD is officially removed, it means the compound can be added to any number of regular products found on supermarket shelves including toothpaste, chocolate bars, beauty products, supplements, and almost anything else that the compound can be squeezed into. In fact, any cosmetic or food produce will be able to contain CBD, so long as the THC content is .3% or lower – which is more in-line with US standards than European standards, even though Europe is Israel’s biggest export market target. The EU, of course, is in its own quest to possibly raise the approved THC content allowable in products to .3% as well. The final wording of the amendment defines cannabis as the entire cannabis plant, including roots, but excluding oil extracted from seeds, or finished products with a THC content not exceeding .3%.
Another thing to understand about this amendment is that it’s not all about CBD. It includes every cannabinoid that’s not THC, so long as the product or preparation still adheres to the no more than .3% THC policy. This means that other psychoactive cannabinoids like CBN (cannabinol), will also be able to be freely used. THC would remain the only compound listed in the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, meaning that according to Israel, CBD is not dangerous, and neither are other non-THC cannabinoids.
It should always be remembered when reading a story like this, that the final approval has not actually been made. Next week, when the Knesset Health Committee gets together, it will discuss the issue. If it agrees that CBD is not dangerous, then it can officially make the approval of the amendment. So, while it does seem like Israel is taking a straight shot to making this happen, it’s not a done deal, and technically, doesn’t have to be. Interested parties should keep a watch on the news (and this site) to find out the outcome next week.
What does this mean for Israel?
Obviously, it gives the ability for wider use of CBD, which many find to be useful for a variety of medical issues. But, like always, it goes well beyond helping citizens get more CBD in their lives.
According to consulting firm Deloitte Israel in a report from September 2019, the Israeli market for CBD, including cosmetics, dietary supplements, and food and beverages, stands to be worth $300-475 million within the next five years. The estimation is that Israel will be able to attain and hold about 1.5% of the total global CBD market share by 2025, which should be approximately $30 billion by that time. The industry is also expected to open up about 8,000 new jobs for Israelis.
By 2025 it’s expected that cannabis cosmetics will account for about 15% of all cosmetic sales globally. By 2026, its expected that nutritional supplements containing CBD will generate $345 billion in just the US, with Israel seeing approximately $120-150 million in revenue accordingly from that time period, in that field. In terms of foods and beverages containing CBD, its expected that in five years from the start of the policy, that the market will bring in $18-36 billion a year for Israel.
Right now, Europe is Israel’s biggest export country target, and by the end of this year, Europe is expected to have approximately €8.3 billion in revenue from CBD product sales. This is expected to increase to about €13.6 billion a year by 2025. The largest market within Europe for CBD sales is Germany, which is expected to bring in €1.8 billion in sales by the end of the year. The UK (though not a part of the EU anymore) is the second biggest market in the region, and is expected to bring in €1.7 billion in CBD product sales by the end of this year. While its totally possible for some of these numbers to be off (in fact, I guarantee you, they will be), they do show the basic parameters of what can be attained in these industries, what can be expected as far as growth, and the potential of a country like Israel to pull in a huge chunk of the action.
One last note on Israeli cannabis reform. The country may actually be starting to lay the foundations for recreational legalization, potentially within a year, with Canada as the basic model for regulating an adult-use market.
For a country with more cannabis research, knowledge, and expertise than any other place in the world, it’s about time for Israel to be a bit more forward thinking. Luckily, the last few years have shown that Israel can not only play catch-up in terms of regulation and legalization, but is still capable of essentially dominating the field.
It should also be noted, that the amendment that will remove CBD – and all other non-THC cannabinoids – from the list of dangerous drugs, will also lower the price of cannabis medicines by as much as 50%, and make it far easier for doctors to issue prescriptions to patients for cannabis medications.
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