Earlier this month BNN Bloomberg reported that Coca Cola was involved in talks with a Canadian cannabis company, with the aim of possibly developing a new line of beverages. The idea of a company as mainstream as Coke getting involved in the cannabis business may seem surprising to some and raises a lot of questions about what exactly is the legal status of cannabis and marijuana now, and how it’s changing.
Cannabis is a family of plants that produces a few different products. The flowering part of certain varieties of cannabis plants is considered marijuana and can contain the psychotropic substance tetrahydrocannabinol, THC. THC isn’t chemically addictive the way nicotine or opiates are but it does produce a high. The stalks, stems, and seeds of cannabis plants generally have negligible amounts of THC even in plants that do have the compound in the leaves. Varieties of cannabis that contain virtually no THC anywhere are also grown; this is industrial hemp.
Hemp fibers can be used to make paper, fabric, construction materials, and other products, and there are also a lot of edible hemp products, none of which will get a person high. Hemp products are legal in the U.S. as long as they meet the federal requirements of having less than 0.3% THC. Growing hemp was illegal in the U.S. up until 2014 when it was allowed under very strict circumstances, and it may be fully legal soon. One version of the 2018 Farm Bill would completely legalize hemp cultivation, and this aspect of the bill has broad bipartisan support. Unfortunately, due to other disagreements the bill is currently badly gridlocked in negotiations between the House and Senate and it’s unclear what version will end up being passed.
One of the chemical compounds found in cannabis plants is called canabidiol, CBD for short, and its legal status is even more confusing than hemp’s. CBD doesn’t get a person high the way THC does, but it does seem to have some effectiveness as a possible treatment for certain medical conditions. CBD oil made from refined cannabis is currently being marketed and studied for a wide range of applications in spite of the fact that it’s not strictly legal. Much of the CBD oil being sold contains less than 0.3% THC, which would seem to qualify it as a legal hemp product. CBD has also specifically been legalized by several states. However, as of last November the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) position is that CBD products are not legal under federal law. In spite of this several small companies already make beverages that contain CBD, and this is the market that Coca Cola may be getting into. Presumably Coca Cola would only enter the CBD drink market if it’s clearly and unequivocally legalized nation wide, and if the rumors of talks are true it could mean that Coca Cola is betting on national changes soon.
When it comes to the legality of marijuana things are also not very cut and dry. Marijuana, and THC containing products made from it, like THC oil or edible candies are classified as Schedule I drugs by the DEA, the most controlled classification. For reference heroin is also a Schedule I, while methamphetamine and fentanyl are Schedule II. The classifications are supposed to be based on things like potential for abuse, dependency, and acceptable medical uses, but marijuana is not chemically addictive, does not cause fatal overdoses, and does have range of medical uses. In spite of this inconsistency there have been no changes to the Federal laws governing marijuana.
States however, have made changes. A number of states decriminalized marijuana in the 1970’s and in starring in the 1990’s states started legalizing medical marijuana use. In recent years several states have also legalized recreational marijuana use creating conflict between state and federal laws. This inconsistency creates a range of problems for people who want to participate in the legal marijuana trade as growers, sellers, or users. And it can be particularly difficult for users of medical marijuana who can get their medicine in some states but not others, and who can’t travel with it on planes without risking arrest.
Lately it also seems that the Federal government is also a bit a war with itself when it comes to marijuana legalization and enforcement. In January of this year Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended guidelines put in place by Obama that limited Federal prosecution of marijuana related offenses. But then in June President Trump said that he would probably support a measure to legalize marijuana. So we may see stricter federal marijuana enforcement soon, or federal legalization.
U.S. cannabis, hemp, and marijuana laws are at best confusing. They’re also ineffective, racist, discriminatory, counterproductive, anti-science, very very expensive, and just plain outdated. If Coca Cola can see the potential in some of these products than the U.S. government should be able to as well. Whether or not we get new cannabis drinks any time soon we definitely need some new cannabis laws.