The US has a complex relationship with the cannabis plant and cannabinoids, particularly THC, spilling back decades. Contradicting cannabis laws at the state and federal level over cannabis industry regulation only complicates matters.
Second, while the 2018 Farm Bill broadly legalized hemp, marijuana remains illegal under the Controlled Substance Act, yet intoxicating hemp products like delta-8 THC are legal. Nonetheless, statistics show that 68% of American adults support adult-use cannabis.
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While the US is nowhere near becoming the “United States of Weed,” more states are passing progressive medical marijuana and recreational cannabis laws. Below is an overview of delta-8 THC-legal states with favorable THC laws.
THC And Other THC Isomers
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Before delving into THC-friendly states, begin by understanding THC terminologies and definitions.
Delta -9 THC, popularly known as THC, is the primary psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant that produces the intoxicating properties synonymous with cannabis consumption. It is the dominant compound in marijuana, although it occurs in trace amounts in hemp plants.
The cannabinoid is illegal on a federal level and is completely legal in only half of the US states. Also, delta-9 THC’s legality depends on its source. Hemp-derived THC is legal in states where marijuana-derived THC is considered illegal.
THC Isomers From Hemp Plants
THC is not the only psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant also contains THC isomers that can induce a “high.”
Isomers are compounds with a similar molecular structures but different chemical properties. Therefore, THC isomers use the same mechanism of action as delta-9 THC in inducing psychoactivity, but the psychoactive intensity varies. Below is an overview of the THC isomers that are legal hemp-derived products.
Delta-8 THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is a THC isomer popularly known as “weed lite” due to its mild psychoactive property, compared to delta-9 THC. The THC isomer is mild because its chemical properties reduce its affinity for receptors, causing a mellow “high.”
Second, delta-8 THC is a hemp product derived from CBD oil via isomerization. Delta-8 THC is arguably the fastest-growing product range among the new-age hemp extract products.
Delta-10 THC is another isomer with unique chemical properties, distinct from delta-9 and delta-8 THC. Like delta-8 THC, delta-10 is also a THC isomer. The cannabinoid’s effects are also milder than delta-9 THC’s.
However, while delta-8 THC is popular for a mellow, euphoric high, delta-10 is famous for an energetic high. Delta-8 THC, delta-10 is also a product of hemp-derived CBD oil. Its production process entails extracting THC from CBD or hemp oil and using the hemp-derived THC to generate delta-10 THC molecules.
Both THC isomers occur naturally in the hemp plant. However, some argue that these cannabis plant cannabinoids are synthetic cannabinoids due to the chemical production processes.
History of Recreational Marijuana Laws In The US
The cannabis plant’s history in the US dates back to the early 1600s when Spaniards introduced hemp to America as an industrial fiber source. American farmers grew hemp as a cash crop until the 1920s when anti-cannabis sentiments began to emerge.
According to one historical account, the hemp cultivated in the US for fiber during the pre-world war I era only had trace amounts of THC, hardly enough to get anyone high. However, hemp went from entirely legal to a controlled substance thanks to a series of draconian laws defining cannabis’ legal status.
The 1930s saw the rise of anti-cannabis sentiments and propaganda spread through the day’s media, including newspapers and films. Such films included “Refer Madness,” “Marihuana,” “Assasin of Youth,” and “Devil’s Harvest, released between the 1930s and the 1950s. The propaganda portrayed cannabis as a dangerous drug that caused insanity, death, and homicidal tendencies.
Hemp plants and marijuana have hundreds of naturally-occurring cannabinoids. However, researchers were yet to discover any cannabinoids. Second, people didn’t know the difference between hemp and marijuana plants and that CBD, the dominant cannabinoid in hemp, has zero psychoactive properties.
Moreover, it was only in 1964 that an Israeli scientist, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, discovered delta-9 THC and its psychoactive effect. It took researchers another two decades to discover the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the interaction between its receptors and naturally-occurring cannabinoids in hemp and the marijuana plant.
Essentially, the propaganda surrounding cannabis consumption in the 1930s was baseless. One report posits that it arose from anti-immigrant sentiments and racist attitudes toward the immigrant population from Mexico.
Nonetheless, lawmakers updated state and federal laws to a statutory definition that classified marijuana as a controlled substance. Moreover, marijuana remains illegal in several US states, including South Carolina and New Hampshire. On the other hand, states like West Virginia and North Dakota only permit medical marijuana use within their jurisdictions.
Below is an overview of the separate bills from the 1930s to the 1950s that overturned marijuana’s status from legal to illegal.
Federal Level Marijuana Laws
The US federal government passed the following legally-binding laws that changed cannabis’ legal status to illegal.
Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act
The Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act became law in 1937, thanks to the National Conference of commissioners. Its primary purpose was for different states to conform to a uniform set of laws governing the use and sale of psychoactive drugs.
Although federal regulators did not primarily target cannabis with this legislation, they aimed to unify state and federal law against compounds with psychoactive properties and hopefully make such laws more stringent. However, the Act was not successful as a legally binding legislation because only a handful of states adopted the law.
Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was the brainchild of two men, Harry Anslinger, A federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner, and a legislator from North Carolina. They drafted and introduced the law as a senate bill, proposing imposing a heavy tax on the importation, cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana.
After the promulgation of the proposed Bill into law, any violations against the Marihuana Tax Act attracted a USD2000 fine or a jail term of up to five years.
Although the Marihuana Tax Act primarily aimed to regulate recreational cannabis consumption, it devastated the cannabis industry by dwindling business and collapsing the unregulated market. Moreover, the law devastated scientific cannabis research, which stalled for decades.
Boggs Act 1952
The Boggs Act of 1951 was arguably the most draconian anti-cannabis law. It was an amendment to the Narcotics Drugs Import and Export Act, and its primary purpose was to set the minimum mandatory sentences for marijuana drug convictions.
According to the Act, first-time offenders convicted of marijuana possession would serve a 2-10 year jail sentence and pay a fine up to USD20000 (today’s equivalent USD236,272).
Controlled Substances Act
The Controlled Substances Act, passed into a federal government law in 1970, classified/ substances with psychoactive properties, regulated under the then-existing federal laws into five classes or schedules.
Drug classification depends on the drug’s proven level of medical efficacy, its potential for abuse, and its capacity to form psychological or physical dependency.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana falls under Schedule I controlled substances, alongside hard narcotics like opium and cocaine. The Act remains active today but includes amendments, including the 2018 Farm Bill.
2018 Farm Bill
The 2018 Farm Bill was the first progressive federal-level cannabis law. The Bill amended the Controlled Substances Act by declassifying hemp from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances. As earlier stated, the Marihuana Act of 1937 led to the decline of cannabis research, including for medical marijuana.
Consequently, although researchers first isolated CBD, the primary non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, in 1940, it was not until 1963 that they determined its structure.
Moreover, one historical report shows that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) discovery in the mid-1980s drew researchers’ attention back to cannabis. It would take a few more decades for them to discover the difference between hemp and marijuana subspecies in terms of psychoactive effects.
After a series of laws outright banning cannabis use in the US, the 2018 Farm Bill declassified hemp from the Schedule 1 controlled substances list. By 2018, researchers had established that cannabis had two sub-species, hemp, and marijuana, with different cannabinoid compositions.
While hemp was CBD-dominant and had zero psychoactivity, marijuana was delta-9THC-dominant.
Therefore, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and hemp-derived products, including edible and inhalable hemp extract products containing hemp oil and CBD oil. Moreover, the Bill legalized other hemp-derived products like hemp cannabinoid products created from hemp but with psychoactive effects, like delta-8 THC. Such products have a similar molecular structure to delta-9 THC but milder psychoactivity levels.
Consequently, medical marijuana license holders can buy hemp extract products considered legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, including delts-8 THC.
However, the Bill never legalized recreational marijuana use. Second, it limits hemp-derived products with a THC content exceeding 0.3%, outright banning the production and distribution of hemp products with a higher THC content.
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Hemp-Derived Cannabinoids With Psychoactive Effects
As earlier stated, cannabis plants, including the hemp plant, contain hundreds of cannabinoids. Although delta-9 THC and CBD are the dominant cannabinoids, minor cannabinoids occur in hemp in trace amounts.
The promulgation of the 2018 Farm Bill created a conducive environment for cannabis research that led to the discovery of minor cannabinoids, like delta-8 THC. However, retrieving trace cannabinoids from the hemp plant to create hemp extract products like hemp edibles proved impractical due to the low quantities of naturally-occurring minor cannabinoids.
However, hemp industry research allowed manufacturers to discover techniques to convert major cannabinoid molecules into minor cannabinoids and create minor cannabinoid hemp extract products. Thanks to such techniques, you can enjoy edible and smokable products infused with minor cannabinoids like delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, and HHC.
State Marijuana Laws
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As progressive as the 2018 Farm Bill is, the law only changed hemp’s and other hemp products’ legal status on the federal level. Since only a few states adopted the uniform State Narcotics Drug Act, state cannabis laws differ from federal government laws.
Consequently, while hemp and other hemp products are federally legal, some states limit access to recreational cannabis like THC edible and inhalable products. Moreover, states like South Carolina and New Hamshire consider any hemp-derived product containing THC a controlled substance, inaccessible even with a medical marijuana card.
Fortunately, some more progressive states like West Virginia and North Dakota have medical marijuana programs that allow medical cannabis cardholders access to THC edible and inhalable products infused with hemp oil. Texas also joined this group of progressive states after passing a proposed house bill that made it entirely legal to consume a hemp-derived product with a THC content not exceeding o.3%. Moreover, the Texas Department of safety runs a medical marijuana program that allows medical marijuana license holders access to low-THC (less than 0.5%) products.
On the other hand of the cannabis legal status spectrum are West coast states like California and New Mexico that legalized THC, including marijuana-derived THC. However, things get complicated for other THC isomers considered synthetic cannabinoids due to chemical production processes.
However, the road to being a THC-legal state involved progression and regression over the years; the progression-regression-dance continues for most states. Below is an overview of US states’ steps to become full-fledged “green states.”
Marijuana decriminalization is the first step toward progressive cannabis laws, reversing draconian anti-cannabis laws, like the Boggs Act of 1951. It entails removing arrests, incarceration, and criminal records for marijuana infractions or minor offenses like possessing small amounts of marijuana or delta-8 THC for personal consumption.
While decriminalization does not legalize weed or hemp-derived products like delta-8 THC, it removes punitive measures that are overwhelming compared to the crime. While marijuana may have some negative effects, the punishment for possessing the substance should not be more harmful than the drug itself.
Medical Marijuana Legalization
Medical marijuana legalization does not legalize marijuana or delta-8 THC consumption for recreational use. However, it is an expanded access program initiative that allows patients with specified medical conditions to use THC and hemp products like delta-8 THC for therapeutic benefits.
However, you can only access medical marijuana if you have a medical marijuana card. Moreover, some medical marijuana programs do not offer THC products.
Recreational Marijuana/ Adult-use Cannabis Legalization
Recreational marijuana/ adult-use cannabis legalization changes the legal status of recreational cannabis from a controlled substance to legal. Such a proposed bill or amendment to the law allows adults at least 21 years old to possess a specified amount of marijuana, delta-8 THC, or other hemp-derived products with psychoactive capacities.
Moreover, pro-adult-use cannabis laws allow residents to plant a specified number of marijuana plants in their homes. However, regulatory bodies like the state’s liquor and cannabis board regulate the market to ensure marijuana license holder compliance, including selling properly tested products.
Why States Legalize Recreational Marijuana
As stated earlier, 68% of Americans support cannabis legalization. However, state governments and regulatory bodies, including the state’s attorney general, benefit from cannabis legalization.
Tax revenue is a crucial revenue stream for state governments, helping to pay government employee salaries and facilitate services, including infrastructure maintenance. According to one report, US state governments collectively collected USD 11.2 billion in tax revenue from the legal recreational cannabis industry.
Low criminal justice expenditure
One report on the cost of marijuana criminalization established that law enforcement agencies spend approximately USD10.7 billion annually on marijuana-related arrests. Therefore, a state’s attorney general can recommend recreational cannabis plant legalization to lower the costs associated with marijuana-related arrests and court cases.
The tax revenue and jobs created by legalizing THC and other properly-tested hemp oil-infused products stimulate economic growth in individual states.
Ultimate Guide To Adult Use Cannabis Legalization
Alaska was among the first states in the US to legalize THC via ballot measure in 2014, after a similar ballot measure in 1998 allowed patients within the state access to medical marijuana. The state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board regulates marijuana sales and distribution in Alaska.
Below is a highlight of Alaskan THC laws to know.
- Adults aged 21 and over (hereafter referred to as adults) can legally possess a maximum of one ounce and 7 milligrams of THC products, including inhalable products.
- THC edible products in the state should contain no more than 10mg of THC.
- They can also plant up to six hemp or marijuana plants at home.
- Alaskan cannabis regulations prevent dispensaries from selling delta-8 THC products, classifying the cannabinoid as a Schedule III controlled substance.
- However, while you cannot access delta-8 THC within Alaska, some Alaskans purchase cannabinoids and other THC isomers online.
- Also, marijuana doorstep delivery is a violation of state cannabis regulations.
- Transportation or shipping marijuana into Alaskan waterways or outside the state is illegal.
Arizona legalized recreational marijuana in January 2021 via a ballot initiative that passed by 60%. The state has a house bill in place proposing that previous marijuana-related convicted charged with possessing less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana can apply to have the arrests and convictions expunged from their records. Arizona’s Department of Health Services is in charge of marijuana licensing, distribution, sales, and quality testing.
- Only adults can buy THC products and plant up to six non-commercial marijuana plants at home.
- You can only possess up to one ounce of THC products
- No smoking THC or hemp products in public.
- Medical marijuana cardholders in the state can grow up to 12 plants for personal use only
- Interstate marijuana or THC product transportation into Arizona is illegal
- Delta-8 THC is illegal in Arizona, and you cannot buy it within the state or online.
California is a trailblazer in cannabis legalization, having legalized medical marijuana in 2016 and recreational marijuana and hemp-derived products a year late. The state is arguably the most significant cannabis empire in the world.
- Although delta-8 THC is legal in California, selling any THC or hemp-derived products, unless you are a licensed dispensary, is illegal.
- Adults aged 21 and above can possess up to one ounce of THC and plant six cannabis plants.
- There is no cap on THC quantity for medical marijuana cardholders in California. They can possess or plant whatever weed quantity meets their therapeutic needs.
- Delivery is legal.
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Colorado jumped on the THC legalization wagon in 2012. The state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division regulates THC accessibility and consumer safety.
- Adults can legally possess a maximum of two ounces of THC products.
- You can share your legal weed stash with friends, but you cannot sell it to them.
- Each municipality gets to vote and decide whether to legalize THC product delivery services within its jurisdiction.
- Delta-8 THC, naturally sourced from marijuana plants, is legal in Colorado, while hemp-derived delta-8 THC is illegal due to isomerization.
Illinois was the 11th State to legalize THC consumption. The state plans to expand its cannabis empire by offering 150 new dispensaries licensed to qualified applicants and popularizing cannabis tours within its jurisdiction.
- Adults in the state can possess one ounce of THC products, including smokable flowers, but smoking in public is illegal.
- Planting weed for personal use is illegal.
- Only medical marijuana cardholders can plant up to five plants for personal use.
- All delta-8 THC products are legal in the state.
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Maine was among the first states to legalize recreational marijuana consumption back in 2016.
Adults can possess no more than 2.5 ounces of weed, and public consumption of cannabis products is illegal. Second, cannabis consumers in the state can plant up to six plants at home. Third, delta-8 THC products are legal in the state.
Massachusetts legalized adult-use cannabis consumption within its jurisdiction in 2018 and established a Cannabis Control Commission for regulatory purposes. The proposed Bill that legalized THC and intoxicating hemp products allow adults to possess an ounce of THC, including delta-8 THC, on their person and store up to ten ounces at home.
Cannabis home-growers in Massachusetts can grow up to six plants. Also, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission issues special licenses to qualified entities seeking to offer weed delivery services.
Michigan has some of the most generous maximum cannabis possession quantities. Adults in the state can possess up to 2.5 ounces of THC on their person and store up to 10 ounces at home. Second, Home-growers can plant up to 12 plants. However, some counties opted out of the state’s recreational cannabis use.
Also, sharing your legal THC products (non-commercial distribution) is a misdemeanor. Second, delta-8 THC is a restricted product in the state, and you can only legally buy delta-8 THC products approved by the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Authority.
Montana legalized adult-use marijuana in 2021, allowing adults to possess an ounce of smokable flower or 8g of THC concentrate. Possessing more than the set amount is a felony. However, while THC is legal, delta-8 is illegal in Montana
Nevada allows adults within its jurisdiction to possess an ounce of weed. However, possessing more than one ounce of weed and smoking in public are misdemeanors. Also, delta-8 THC is illegal in the state.
New Jersey is among the most recent entries into the green states league. The Garden State passed the recreational marijuana bill after a ballot initiative. However, the state’s law does not allow cannabis home growing.
New Mexico passed the Cannabis Regulation Act in 2021, legalizing adult-use cannabis. The Act allowed adults to legally possess 2ounces of weed (16g of concentrate/ 800mg of edibles). It also permits home growing, as adults can grow six mature plants and six immature plants per person, totaling 12 mature plants per household.
Delta-8 THC is also legal in New Mexico. However, public smoking is a misdemeanor, while transporting THC products across state lines is a federal offense.
One report shows that New York consumes more metric tonnes of weed than any other city worldwide. The state allows adults to possess up to 3ounces of THC while home-growing enthusiasts can cultivate up to six plants.
New York plans to establish weed delivery services and cannabis lounges. However, the New York Cannabis Control Board prohibits the manufacture and sale of delta-8 THC products in the state
Oregon legalized adult-use marijuana in 2014, allowing adults to legally possess an ounce of marijuana and grow up to four cannabis plants at home. However, delta-8 THC is illegal in the state.
Vermont has many firsts, including being the first state to legalize recreational marijuana via legislative process rather than a ballot initiative. The legislative legalization allowed consumers to grow weed at home but did not permit retail sales.
However, a recent legislation amendment permitted retail sales in the state. Nonetheless, delta-8 THC products are illegal in Vermont.
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Virginia was the first state in the conservative South to legalize recreational weed. However, retail sales in the state are on hold until 2024 as legislators and regulators set up a market. Nonetheless, adults in the state can count on delta-8 THC products and home-grown weed.
Like Vermont and Virginia, Washington DC legalized weed but did not create provisions for retailers, although this may change in the future. Also, adults can plant home-grown six cannabis plants maximum, and delta-8 THC products are legal in the state.
Rhode Island legalized adult-use cannabis in 2022. The state’s cannabis legislation allowed adults to possess an ounce of weed on their person, grow three mature and three immature plants, and store ten ounces of weed alongside the live plants. However, delta-8 THC is not legal in the state.
Adult-use THC remains a work in progress in the US. However, the states above are setting the tone, and hopefully, the overwhelming clamor for cannabis legalization will ser conservative states on a similar path.
However, not that the municipalities and counties within each state can set individual rules. Therefore, consider such possibilities before visiting any of the above states for a THC tour.