Legal Environment Shows We’re Still Not Sure About Cannabis

Annual surveys seem to suggest that Americans are generally more accepting of cannabis with every passing year. Indeed, how many states now allow medical marijuana as a result of voter propositions forcing lawmakers to give the green light? Still, the cannabis question may not be as settled as it would appear. Just look at all the confusing laws around the country.

The legal environment suggests we still aren’t sure about cannabis as a nation. People want access to it, yet how that access is granted is not settled. Does the entire country want medical use? How do we feel about recreational use? If nothing else, our mishmash of state and federal laws demonstrates that we are not quite unified on the subject.

Medical vs. Recreational Use

A first point of delineation is the question of medical and/or recreational use. Colorado is one of the eighteen states that allow both types of use. Utah is on the other end of the spectrum and consumers in the Beehive State can only utilize medical cannabis. Furthermore, according to, a patient must obtain a medical cannabis card from the state in order to do so.

The strange thing is this: from practical standpoint, there is little difference between medical and recreational products. So why have separate systems for both types of consumption? If you are a Colorado lawmaker, why not just push to end the medical program entirely? There doesn’t seem to be a reason to keep it intact.

Registration and Certification

Another point of delineation is how medical users obtain the authority to buy cannabis products. In Utah, patients have to get a medical cannabis card after visiting with a qualified medical provider. The medical provider verifies that the patient suffers from a qualifying condition and that cannabis is an appropriate way to treat that condition.

Although the law is set to change on July 1 (2022), things in Virginia are different. There, patients have to get written certification from a medical professional and register with the state. State registration comes with an annual fee and a 60-day waiting period. Why require both?

To their credit, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that eliminates state registration. But it is a mystery as to why it was ever required to begin with. Requiring both certification and registration seems redundant.

Black Market Business

Lawmakers are not the only ones demonstrating that America isn’t quite sure about cannabis yet. Consumers demonstrate similar confusion. How so? By championing a legal market and then turning around and buying from the black market. It is a money thing, for sure.

Voter referendums and propositions around the country have forced lawmakers to legalize cannabis in some form in thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia. California has been leading the charge since the 1990s. Strangely enough, despite being one of the most liberal marijuana environments in the country, California’s black market buries the legal market in annual sales.

It is not hard to understand why. Black market cannabis is cheaper; sellers do not pay license fees and taxes; they don’t bother maintaining facilities that meet state codes. They just grow, harvest, and sell. That is all well and good for consumers, but the same consumers that pushed for years to get legalization on the books are still breaking the law by buying from black market sellers.

The fate of cannabis in the U.S. is pretty much settled. It’s only a matter of time before Washington decriminalizes it. But that does not mean all of America agrees. As a nation, we are still not sure of marijuana’s place in society. Perhaps we never will be.

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