A Simple Question | Dentons – JDSupra – JD Supra

While my colleagues and I will use this space mostly to discuss legal, business and scientific developments relevant to the legalization and regulation of cannabis, I’d like to start with a deceptively simple question: What is cannabis?
The easy and common response is to point to the definition of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, to wit,“all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.” Although the Act’s definition hints at the plant’s complexities, I’m more interested in uncovering something more foundational about cannabis. Indeed, how we think about this question is critical to how we, as a society, move forward in legalizing and regulating cannabis.
To do so effectively, we need to consider what cannabis was, what it is, and what it is becoming. For decades, cannabis was mostly viewed as an illegal party drug. For many, its use signified moral bankruptcy and degeneracy. Today, cannabis is used by many different people in many different ways for many different purposes. Cannabis has been used for many purposes for thousands of years and its current growing legalization and proliferation of different form factors has only accelerated its normalization and diversity of uses.
Through my years working in the area, I’ve noticed that people tend to project their own experience or area of work onto cannabis and its future. Much of the public sees cannabis as just like tobacco/nicotine. People in the alcohol industry view cannabis as similar to booze and believe that cannabis-infused beverages will become the most common form factor. Those in the pharmaceutical industry tend to try to pigeonhole cannabis into the traditional space for drugs. In turn, some regulators fail to see cannabis’s complexities and want to apply the common standards/requirements found in the tobacco, alcohol or drug industries to cannabis in all contexts. For the foreseeable future, however, cannabis likely will be “all of the above”—a recreational drug, a common palliative, an ingredient in dietary supplements, a food and beverage, a pharmaceutical, an alcohol replacement, a sleep aid, etc.
We should not hold back cannabis’s enormous potential with a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, while I welcome all scientific study on cannabis, I doubt that we need double-blind placebo-controlled safety studies for every strain of cannabis sold as flower for recreational use. Cannabis flower has been consumed safely for millennia. Nor do we need multi-year studies to discover a standard dose before anyone can use cannabis for palliative relief. As users have done in the past, the consumer is best suited to identify and titrate to their most effective palliative dose—given that person’s endocannabinoid system, genetics, condition, tolerance, need and context. On the other hand, everyone benefits from the establishment of standards for product claims and contextually appropriate regulations. For decades, cannabis was misclassified and mistreated as an illegal drug. We should not make the same mistake by treating cannabis monolithically, now or in the future. Asking the question, “what is cannabis,” will guide appropriate regulations and allow us to keep an open mind to cannabis’s true potential. See you next week!
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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
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