The Current State of Marijuana Policy: NORML’s Key Events of 2023

By: Alex Freidmen

1. The Expansion of Adult-Use Marijuana Legalization Laws

During 2023, several states surged ahead on the path toward adult-use marijuana legalization. Delaware, Minnesota, Ohio, and Maryland all enacted legislation facilitating regulated adult-use marijuana possession and the establishment of retail cannabis markets. The numbers speak volumes: 22 states have now embraced adult-use marijuana legalization, a monumental milestone.

2. HHS Calls for Reclassifying Cannabis

Pressure mounted on the US Drug Enforcement Administration when the Department of Health and Human Services recommended reclassifying cannabis as a Schedule III substance, an encouraging sign of legislative progress toward marijuana decriminalization.

3. A Groundswell of Public Support for Cannabis Legalization

An unprecedented 70 percent of adults in the US voiced their approval for cannabis legalization, signaling a broad shift in societal attitudes towards marijuana. This overwhelming support indicates that public opinion is rapidly aligning with the changing legal landscape for marijuana.

4. Advancements in Workplace Protections for Cannabis Consumers

Michigan and Washington implemented new laws preventing public employers from conducting pre-employment marijuana testing for non-safety-sensitive positions, continuing a nationwide trend toward protecting the rights of cannabis consumers in the workplace.

The Evolving Landscape of Cannabis Legalization: A Year in Review

Workplace regulations, court rulings, federal pardons, youth trends, and FDA rulings are just some examples of how the landscape of cannabis legalization has evolved in the past year. With changing cultural and legal environments, it seems the public’s stance on cannabis is steadily shifting.

Broader Workplace Protection Laws

Rhode Island has enacted broader workplace protection laws, limiting employers’ ability to conduct on-the-job testing for marijuana metabolites or to sanction employees for off-hours cannabis consumption. According to NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano, these decisions reflect today’s changing cultural and legal landscape surrounding cannabis. Armentano emphasized the need for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for off-hour activities that pose no legitimate threat to workplace safety or productivity.

Federal Courts Reject Second Amendment Ban for Marijuana Consumers

In August, judges with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 1968 federal law prohibiting the possession or sale of a firearm to an “unlawful user” of a controlled substance should not be applied so broadly that it would criminalize all gun owners with a history of marijuana use. Similar rulings were made by federal judges in Oklahoma and Texas, setting a precedent in protecting the Second Amendment rights of marijuana consumers.

Marijuana Arrests Fall to 30-Year Low

Data compiled by the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer revealed that state and local police made at least 227,108 arrests for marijuana violations last year, marking a lull not seen since the early 1990s. In 2007, this number was over 870,000. This dramatic decline in marijuana-related arrests signifies a significant shift in law enforcement priorities over the years.

POTUS Issues Pardon Proclamation for Those with Marijuana-Related Convictions

President Joe Biden issued a directive in December to pardon additional offenses of simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law. This expansive move aimed to address the needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities created by criminal records for marijuana use and possession. The President had also issued a similar pardon proclamation last October, displaying a consistent effort to right the wrongs stemming from the failed approach to marijuana. This initiative brings hope to the thousands of Americans with low-level federal marijuana-related convictions.

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Teen Marijuana Use Remains Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

Federally funded surveys by the University of Michigan and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration report that rates of teens’ marijuana use are below pre-pandemic levels and near historic lows. These findings provide reassurance that cannabis access for adults can be regulated in a manner that is safe and effective without significantly impacting young people’s consumption habits.

FDA Fails to Establish Rules for Hemp-Derived Cannabis Products

Representatives of the US Food and Drug Administration announced in February that they were abandoning efforts to craft regulations governing the production and sale of hemp-derived products containing high levels of CBD and other cannabinoids. This move leaves a regulatory void in the market for these products, making it challenging for stakeholders to navigate the legal landscape and ensure consumer safety and transparency.

Recent Developments in Cannabis Regulation

Recent Developments in Cannabis Regulation

FDA Acknowledges Regulatory Gap for Hemp-Derived CBD Products

Following a five-year study, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged the inadequacy of its current rules in addressing hemp-derived cannabinoid products. Consequently, the agency has urged Congress to take action on this critical issue, noting that the existing guidelines for foods and dietary supplements are insufficient for effectively regulating these products.

Advocacy Efforts and Quality Concerns

Organizations like NORML have persistently lobbied the FDA to establish comprehensive regulatory frameworks encompassing the production, testing, labeling, and marketing of hemp-derived cannabinoid products. Various analyses, including those conducted by the FDA, have consistently revealed the variable quality and potency of many over-the-counter cannabinoid products. Furthermore, concerns have been raised regarding potential contaminants, adulterants, and elevated levels of heavy metals in these products, underscoring the urgent need for robust regulations.

Kentucky’s Milestone in Medical Cannabis Legislation

In a significant development, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear signed legislation in March, marking Kentucky as the 38th state to enact a comprehensive medical cannabis access program. Scheduled to be operational by January 1, 2025, this program represents a momentous milestone for cannabis advocacy in Kentucky. Matthew Bratcher, the Executive Director of Kentucky NORML, expressed optimism about the newfound access to regulated, therapeutic cannabis products, emphasizing that the legalization represents a historic first step that aligns with the aspirations of Kentucky patients.

NORML, with a founding date in 1970, holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning cannabis advocacy group in the U.S. and across the globe.

Image courtesy of NORML