Cannabis has been used globally for more than 5000 years. There are three varieties or genuses of cannabis plants for which a variety of uses have been developed – including making cloth, rope, food, bioplastics, biofuel, as a substance for spiritual practice, and as medicine. This plant that was originally indiginous to central Asia has since spread globally and in the common era cannabis still is being used for materials, food, and medicine. Despite being popular, affordable, versatile and useful – cannabis has also been illegal in most countries for about the past 100 years.
Hemp is tied deeply and uniquely into the fabric of American history. It was a popular crop in colonial America in the 1600s. It was used for a wide variety of purposes and was a huge part of the American economy. One of the reasons Britain desired to colonize America was to grow hemp for the textile trade (similar to the later demand for cotton after the cotton gin was invented). Once it secured its independence from England, America’s early economy was 95% agriculture based, and a large portion of that was hemp.
Tobacco was a newly fashionable american product, but it wasn’t yet popular enough to carry the full weight of the national economy. Hemp, however, found its way into many early American products – paper, clothing, bedding. Hemp was important for military products and needs like naval ships, ropes, and weapons, and it was used in the Civil War and during both World Wars. Hemp is unquestioningly tied to early American success – indeed, the American Constitution itself is written on hemp paper.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the importance of hemp has been buried inside history books due to federal restrictions. Now it’s important to understand that hemp and THC cannabis are related, but different species of plant. The Cannabaceae family (cannabis plant family) includes three varieties of plant – THC cannabis (C. Sativa), hemp cannabis (C. Indica) and Cannabis ruderalis. THC Cannabis (C. Sativa), formerly known as marijuana, has a higher concentration of high THC cannabinoids, lower in CBD cannabinoids, and contains a mix of various terpenes (the essential oils of cannabis) as well as other minor cannabinoids. Hemp (C. Indica), is much higher in CBD and barely has any THC, but also includes a variety of terpenes and minor cannabinoids. Even within these two species of plants there are a variety of strains – between which the percentage of THC, CBD, terpenes, and minor cannabinoids can vary widely. There are currently over 700 different strains being produced through strain cross-breeding.
So if cannabis/hemp were so popular and widely used, then why did it become illegal?
Well, in the 1920s and 1930s the biggest proponents of a federal ban on cannabis products were William Randolf Hearst and Henry Anslinger (and his powerful relative Andrew Mellon). Anslinger, the first Federal Bureau of Narcotics director, was openly was racist and sexist. He pushed a narrative that cannabis was dangerous and was often quoted stating vile anti-Mexican, anti-Black, and anti-Asian sentiments. William Randolph Hearst also pushed for criminalization. He had economic interests that would benefit if cannabis was prohibited, and he also happened to own a large amount of media to help him push a false narrative. In 1937, Congress elected to reschedule cannabis as a schedule one substance, which means it had no medical use and a high potential for abuse. (Mead 2017) The American Medical Association petitioned Congress to request that cannabis not be scheduled in such a way, but they lost that battle. They weren’t alone – there were many organizations that petitioned Congress and the newly formed DEA to stop cannabis prohibition.
Why would cannabis be rescheduled if both doctors and the population at large wanted it to remain available to the public?
In 1937 there were many reasons the wealthy (and the government in which they served) wanted to reschedule cannabis, and none of them were good or at all based in science. One major reason was racism and misogyny. The Mexican-American war took place in the mid-1800s, and in the aftermath there was a large influx of Mexican immigrants, or more accurately “Americans”, as there were a large number of indigenous people – former Mexican citizens and tribes living in New Mexico, Arizona, and California that became American by force once Mexico lost the war in 1848 and the US government annexed the land. A few years later there was also another influx of Mexican immigrants during and after the Mexican Revolution in 1910-1911. Anti-Mexican immigrant rhetoric included lambasting cannabis, which was a popular recreational and medicinal substance for Latinx and indigenous cultures at the time, as it was for White immigrants and citizens alike. A narrative began circulating that cannabis had a Jekyll and Hyde effect on personality and caused men to lose control, and then those in power pointed fingers towards Latino, Black, and Indiginous communities The false narrative (and I want to be clear here: NOTHING about this narrative was or is true) was that cannabis use would make these men violent and lead them to sexually assault women. The fear mongering also told a tale that cannabis would be surreptitiously or coercively given to “good women” to make them sexually promiscuous.
This rhetoric was not particularly original, but a virtual carbon copy of how opium was banned in the mid-1800s due to anti-Asian and anti-Chinese immigrant sentiment and as a means of control over that population. Men of color “attacking” and making “sexual advances” on women was cited multiple times in the official hearings. (Burnett, M., & Reiman, A. 2014) Dr. Anslinger didn’t try to hide his bias towards people of color when arguing why cannabis should be restricted. Prior to the push for criminalization, “marijuana” was a relatively obscure slang word – but it became weaponized as a slanderous and racist (its etymology leaning into anti-Mexican sentiment) term. This is also why we now prefer to use the scientific word “cannabis”, instead of marijuana. However, for a long time, many people didn’t realize that the marijuana that was being railed against in the press and THC/hemp were the same plants. This is cited as the reason the AMA responded to the push for criminalization so late – not arriving until the final day of the hearings. When they did respond, Dr. Woodward of the AMA said, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug,” and warned that a prohibition “loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for cannabis.” (AMA statement Dr. Woodward, 1937)
But why was hemp tied into criminalization with THC Cannabis — was it accidental guilt by association or intentional?
The answer comes down, as it so often does, to wealthy men trying to make themselves wealthier through dubious means. William Randolph Hearst made his fortune not only from media ownership, but also from producing and selling paper products. His family owned not only the newspaper corporation, but a paper company as well – and he stood to lose millions of dollars to hemp if it became widely used as a substitute for tree based paper. Mr. Hearst picked up on the racist narrative with his media conglomerate and ran with it – inundating the public with false information via the newspapers he controlled. Additionally, Andrew Mellon was a large investor in DuPont – a chemical company that made petrol, synthetics, chemicals, plastics, and nylon and he also stood to lose millions of dollars through competition if hemp remained legal. Andrew Mellon was appointed by President Hoover to be Secretary of the Treasury and was very close to the administration. Andrew Mellon’s relative also just happened to be one Dr. Anslinger (Solomon 2020). During World War II the government did allow for hemp use by an emergency wartime declaration, but this was quickly rescinded after the war. In the early 1970s there was a commission put together by the US government about cannabis and hemp. “The Shafer Commission,” as it was called, declared that marijuana should not be a Schedule I, and even cast doubt upon its designation as an illicit substance. (Burnett, M., & Reiman, A. 2014) However, despite continued findings like this throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, hemp and cannabis remained illegal until recently for reasons based in racism and greed.
So what exactly changed to make Hemp Legal??
The 2018 Farm Bill is what makes hemp legal. However, the details of how and what hemp is legal are pretty confusing; so if you’ve been confused about what exactly makes CBD and hemp legal now, you aren’t alone. Per the Brookings Institute, hemp (and hemp based CBD) is legal, but WITH lots of restrictions. That includes: having 0.3% or less of THC in it (this was determined completely arbitrarily by the government), strict laws that coordinate with state laws with hefty fines for violations, and most importantly – a system that largely prohibits people from growing hemp on their own due to so many restrictions, penalties, and fines.
What the farm bill doesn’t do in the case of CBD is to get it approved by the FDA. The reason for this is this is much more complicated than it seems, but there are various political reasons that make this so. One reason is that if hemp CBD were approved by the FDA, Medicare (and by association Medicaid, and commercial insurance carriers) would then have to pay for CBD as a supplement and prescription. This is due to the “Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003,” a law pushed by pharmaceutical lobbyists. So as you can imagine, the FDA non-approval of cannabis likely has something to do with this as the pharmaceutical companies could stand to lose buckets of money if cannabis led to less need for their patented and expensive medications.
The Farm Bill also has a lot of caveats to it AND it still reminds the consumer and producer that cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug. That makes it extremely difficult for CBD growers and sellers. The fuzziness also adds burden to the consumer, and makes CBD less safe overall due to lack of clarity. The CBD companies who are following the rules and doing it right (like Equilibria) spend lots of time and money to make that happen and ensure that they are in compliance with the law. Even while being careful though, just being in the industry means a LOT of hoops to jump through: banking is extremely difficult, advertising is challenging, and research remains severely restricted due to the lack of FDA guidance and the DEA.
So is it legal to take Hemp CBD?
Yes! In all 50 states. It is legal! There are no legal repercussions for using CBD in any state. The hoops the FDA and DEA have set up do eventually trickle down to the consumer for quality control. However, with Equilibria you are safe from poor farming practices & toxins, and you know that your are getting real CBD.
Does this mean we get more research?
Sort of! It will help. As more folks use CBD, that provides more data for research. It also leaves room for companies, doctors, nurses, and scientists to study hemp CBD, more so than prior to the passage of the Farm Bill. However, to have a complete open license to pursue the badly needed research, the US needs to decriminalize cannabis from being a schedule 1 substance.
What will happen if I take a drug test?
If you are using full spectrum CBD you could test positive on a drug test from that 0.3% THC – yes, even still. However, there is good news on the horizon. With hemp CBD being legal, that means more people are using it and employers and the government are considering removing THC drug testing policies and there are state laws that prohibit this testing as CBD becomes more popular. As mentioned last week for Nurses week, testing for THC is archaic, out of touch, and abilist. It also doesn’t show if someone is impaired at work, so it is only used as a punitive measure on workers. Today, the ACNA came out with a statement – Eloise Theisen, ACNA President states that, “Testing for cannabinoids, especially THC, is not a reliable test for impairment and there is no evidence to support that testing improves workplace performance or decreases workplace accidents.”
ACNA recognized that many nurses will be looking to cannabis as an option to manage symptoms – such as chronic pain, anxiety and insomnia – as the evidence emerges to support use of cannabinoids for those symptoms. Michael Rochlin also noted that “Drug-testing for cannabis is discriminatory and does not ensure safety… As more and more states move towards legalizing medical and adult use cannabis, employers will need to start reviewing the evidence and make policy changes that are based on evidence and not fear.”
So while hemp CBD legalization isn’t perfect, it is a pathway to research, policy change, and – of course – access to quality CBD products to help in your personal wellness journey.
Brunetti, P., Faro, A. F. L., Pirani, F., Berretta, P., Pacifici, R., Pichini, S., & Busardò, F. P. (2020). Pharmacology and legal status of cannabidiol. Annali dell’Istituto superiore di sanita, 56(3), 285-291.
Burnett, M., & Reiman, A. (2014). How Did Marijuana Become Illegal in the First Place?. Drug Policy Alliance. October, 9.
Mead, A. (2017). The legal status of cannabis (marijuana) and cannabidiol (CBD) under US law. Epilepsy & Behavior, 70, 288-291.
Russo, E. B. (2007). History of cannabis and its preparations in saga, science, and sobriquet. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 4(8).
Samuel, P. (2016). History of medical cannabis. Journal of Pain Management, 9(4), 387.
Solomon, R. (2020). Racism and its effect on cannabis research. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 5(1), 2-5.
Woodward, C. (1937). Statement of Dr. William C Woodward, Legislative Council, American Medical Association, before the House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, May 4, 1937. Dr. Woodard told Congress that ; The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug," and warned that a prohibition ; loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for cannabis.