Hemp Legalization-Prelude to Legal Cannabis in America?

Congress officially made the cultivation of hemp legal on Dec. 20, 2018. The 2018 US Farm Bill recognized the many industrial uses of hemp.  Hemp producers didn’t want inconsistent laws across state borders or to risk legal issues with federal enforcement. The congressional authorization has not only given the industry a boost and legal protection, but it also allows hemp farmers to purchase crop insurance like all other legal agricultural producers.  Companies extract CBD oil from hemp and use it for various medical applications.  The regulation of hemp as an agricultural resource has been viewed by many to be a prelude to the legalization of all cannabis, medical and recreational.

Hemp and the FDA 

The FDA recently approved a cannabis-derived drug, Epidiolex to treat severe forms of epilepsy.  With the FDA taking CBD seriously and approving medical use of its derived drugs, pharmaceutical companies need legal, regulated sources of CBD.  Since THC can treat other conditions, pharmaceutical companies will also need legal, regulated sources of THC. The legalization of hemp sets up the infrastructure among businesses and government regulators for this. The USDA has already approved crop insurance for hemp. The models that insurance companies use on hemp products and hemp businesses can be applied to cannabis as well. Hemp is no longer excluded from the banking system.  As companies are now able to conduct major financial transactions for hemp products or hemp investments, the business will flow more smoothly. It is now much easier for hemp businesses to pay taxes. The same will apply to cannabis.

Cannabis Legalization Stages

Cannabis legalization occurs in stages.  After cannabis prohibition, the first government to legalize cannabis in any form in the United States was San Francisco.  San Francisco legalized cannabis to treat HIV symptoms.  Eventually, the state of California legalized cannabis, and other states soon followed.  As the market for certain cannabis products had developed further, the national government in the United States legalized hemp.

Why does the legalization of cannabis occur in stages?  The government made cannabis illegal. The government used the war on drugs to end activism from minorities and anti-war activists.  With all of the anti-cannabis propaganda that had ingrained itself into the general public, it took activists time to educate the general public and politicians on the benefits of cannabis.  Activists had to educate policymakers on the general failure of the war on drugs. In the early stages of the HIV epidemic, doctors had no choice but to experiment and be open-minded towards new treatments.  As researchers verified positive uses of cannabis, the attitudes of law enforcement, lawmakers, the public, the medical profession, and the general public began to shift.

US Congressional Politics

Senator Jeff Sessions, who had been named Attorney General, was a huge proponent of the war on drugs.  He was forced out of his position as attorney general.  It is no longer popular to be anti-cannabis or to be a proponent of the war on drugs.  Kim Kardashian personally appealed to Trump on the behalf of Alice Johnson, a woman kept in prison for decades for selling cocaine.  Trump released her from prison, and Johnson currently models for Kardashian’s lingerie.  President Trump himself does not campaign against drugs.

Currently, cannabis activists are hoping that the Safe Banking Act will clear the Senate. The Safe Banking Act would allow banks and financial institutions such as Visa and Mastercard to legally deal with cannabis companies. The passing of the Act could completely transform the industry. It has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, but activists are hoping that it can join a bill that has more acceptable language. Hemp legalization, after all, occurred as a part of the 2018 farm bill.

The biggest game-changer is the 2020 reelection campaign of Mitch McConnell. McConnell pushed for hemp to be legal.  He realized how important it could be for his home state of Kentucky and personally met with members of the hemp industry. However, he has held back on the legalization of THC. McConnell was an old proponent of the war on drugs.  Therefore, he has a hard time changing course completely on these issues. Of course, if the public votes him out of office, the barrier he placed to THC legalization will be gone.  Should the Republicans lose the Senate, and the White House in 2020, legalization will occur faster.   As the Democrats in the US have been the main proponents of ending the war on drugs.

FDA Approval of Other Drugs for Medical Uses

Even if McConnell and Trump win the reelection, the American public wants cannabis prohibition to end.  Two-thirds of Americans support cannabis legalization.  Researchers and advocates now push for various medical uses of a variety of drugs besides cannabis, and some of them have already gained FDA approval.  Researchers have clinical trials to treat LSD for addiction, MDMA/molly/ecstasy to treat PTSD, and ibogaine to treat addiction.  The FDA is in the final stages of approving MDMA. As the public and medical professions now accept various types of drug use socially and recreationally, politicians across the political spectrum will ultimately have to address this with full legalization of cannabis and other drugs.

Meanwhile, the non-THC operations of cannabis companies have gained access to banking, insurance, and regulatory systems. As cannabis companies typically involve themselves in THC, CBD, and THC/CBD products, hemp legalization has already built up their commercial relationships with the financial and mainstream business sectors.  Congress will act within the next few years on full legalization. Still, there´s still a chance it could act in 2020. McConnell realizes he has to run for re-election and depending on what things come up, he may decide to act quickly.