About two months after lawmakers held hearings on Capitol Hill to discuss laws on cannabis reform, more conversation focused on its future Thursday at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in northwest D.C.
One recurring sentiment at the Washington Convention Center during a two-part panel hosted by Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands): federal oversight must be instituted.
“We have a long way to go to dispel the claims against the cannabis industry,” Plaskett said.
Cannabis remains an illegal and controlled substance under federal law, but can be legal with state approval.
About 33 states and the District of Columbia approved medical marijuana usage, but only 11 and the District offer its for adult recreational use. Laws are slightly different depending on the state.
Residents in the states of Illinois and Washington are prohibited to cultivate cannabis for personal use, but can for medical use. In Nevada, residents can own six plants but must be at least 25 miles from a retail location.
“We have with a patchwork of laws from state to state,” said Neal Levine, CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, who testified before lawmakers in July.
Cannabis advocates said the fact that marijuana is being discussed in Congress and at the CBC conference is a sign of changing times.
In terms of higher education, Southern University and Louisiana State University are the only two public schools in the nation to research and grow cannabis at their campus centers.
The University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy began offering an online graduate course last month to study, research and analyze cannabis. It’s the first school in the nation to offer such a course, but state law doesn’t allow the plant to be studied on the campus.
Students will focus on basic science, clinical use, adverse effects and public health and federal and state laws and policies.
Natalie Eddington, dean of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy, said about 150 students are enrolled in the two-year course. Two students are from Australia and another two from China, she said.
“I’m very proud of the fact that this is a very diverse class in terms of race, gender as well as age,” Eddington said. “Our youngest student is 22 [and] oldest student is 72, so everyone is participating in the program.”
Nearly all those who spoke said education remains the focal point, includes establishing the difference between hemp and marijuana plants.
Although both are derived from the same cannabis plant and smell and look the same, a major difference is the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in cannabis. Marijuana can contain up to 20 percent THC, but hemp has less than 0.3 percent.
Armaney Richardson-Peterson, who owns The Hemp Source with her husband, Charles, in Wendell, North Carolina, offers a more direct analogy: collard and turnip greens are from the same family, but collard greens have a bitterer taste.
“It kind of bothers me when we have these sessions where we combine them because it’s a lot of miseducation in our community,” Richardson-Peterson said. “In North Carolina, our challenges are law enforcement [because] they can’t tell the difference [between hemp and marijuana]. There is so much miseducation in this industry.”
Hope Wiseman, who owns Mary and Main, a dispensary in Capitol Heights, Maryland, said access to capital are vital to entering and surviving in the cannabis industry.
Fortunately for Wiseman, she said, her mother, a general dentist, and another partner, an oral surgeon, assisted her when she first started in 2014 at age 24.
“I wasn’t making any money for years,” she said. “I think it was a sacrifice that was necessary, but can your average minority do that?”