Decriminalisation, legalisation and regulation of Cannabis

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With the cannabis movement gaining more and more momentum worldwide, many countries have already decriminalized or even legalized cannabis, in one way or the other. But, what is the difference between decriminalization and legalization and should cannabis be regulated and why?

Criminalization and prohibition of cannabis

Cannabis industry isn’t by all means new, it’s at least a few hundred years old, even more so in some corners of the world. What’s new about it is the commercial scale of things and corporate cannabis. Up to the 1800s cannabis was free to grow, use and sell in almost the whole world. In many places, cannabis was an integral part of medicine and daily use, whether it was religious and spiritual, medicinal or just a way to unwind after a long day.

The 19th century brought the first bans and regulations of cannabis, starting from Napoleon banning his troops the use of hashish and cannabis infused beverages, through various British colonies like Mauritius, Guayana, Sri Lanka and India prohibiting its use and cultivation to countries like Brazil, Greece, Singapore and Morocco doing the same.

The regulations and bans continued and grew in the 20th century, with more and more countries banning cannabis and its use. Soon after The League of Nations was formed, first international bans began to appear and apply to its members, like the “International Opium Convention” from 1925. The United States banned cannabis through the infamous “Marijuana Tax Act” which led to even more countries being forced into prohibiting, or at least regulating cannabis.

The “War on Drugs” in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in even more bans and prohibition, like the United Nations “Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs” and US “Controlled Substances Act” that essentially forced even more countries to stop and ban their cannabis production and use, which, in some regions, spanned for centuries. Those restrictions didn’t apply only to weed, or psychoactive cannabis but included hemp too, which didn’t make any sense, if you look at the reasoning behind banning something that could get you high. The reasoning behind the ban that included hemp too was that powerful lobbies like oil, plastic, pharma and others saw hemp as a legitimate threat to their businesses, so banning all forms and varieties of cannabis was a nice way to get rid of the competition.

At the end of the 20th century and especially at the beginning of the 21st century, we finally began to see cannabis being decriminalized and legalized worldwide, first – only for medicinal use, followed by “recreational” and other uses too.

But, what is the difference between decriminalization and legalization of cannabis?

Decriminalization of cannabis

Decriminalization just means lessening of criminal penalties in relation to a certain act. That doesn’t mean you’re free to do whatever you want with something that’s been decriminalized, just essentially means that you won’t go to jail because of it and won’t be treated as a felon.

Decriminalizing cannabis means the same thing and when it comes to cannabis, things that have been decriminalized, whether it’s for medical or “recreational” use, in most cases include:

  • Growing by licenced producers – which means that in order for you not to go to jail for growing cannabis, you must register a legal business and get a licence to do so. If you don’t have a licence and don’t comply with rules and regulations, you will pay fines and end up in jail.
  • Personal or “home” grows – which means that every adult individual or household can grow up to a certain number of plants. If you exceed that number, you will get fined, your extra plants will get chopped down and in some places, you will even be taken to jail, depending on the number of plants you grew that exceeded the limit.
  • Selling and distribution – which means that licenced stores, or in some cases producers, can sell you cannabis. Cannabis that dispensaries, shops and pharmacies are selling must come from licenced producers and numerous restrictions, rules and regulations apply to them. If they don’t comply with them, their licences can be revoked and they will pay penalties or even face prosecution. For instance, all places limit how much cannabis or cannabis products one person can buy at one time and they can’t legally sell you as much as you want.
  • Possession – which means that you can have a certain amount of cannabis in your possession but if you have more than the regulations allow, it will be taken away from you, you will pay fines and, in some cases, even face prosecution.

Legalization of cannabis

Legalization is a process of removing legal prohibition against something which was currently not legal. That doesn’t mean that any regulations and rules may not still apply – for instance tobacco and alcohol are legal in most places but you need to be an adult in order to buy it and use it.

When it comes to cannabis, legal cannabis would mean that anyone who wants to grow, sell, buy or use it, would be free to do so in every shape or form. Just like apples and tomatoes – if you want, you can grow your own and there’s isn’t a limit telling you, you can have 5 tomatoes and 3 apple trees – you can have as much as you want. If you want to sell them, you’re free to do so, if you want to eat them or give them away, you’re free to do so too.

So, essentially, legal cannabis would allow people to grow as much cannabis as they want, it would allow them to (re)sell it to others and to use cannabis in any way they chose. Many articles and authors say that cannabis has been legalized if both medicinal and “recreational” cannabis have been decriminalized but that’s not right.

The definition of legalization means “removing of prohibition” and with decriminalized cannabis, you’re still prohibited to have as many plants as you want, you’re still prohibited from buying cannabis from unlicensed producers, you’re still prohibited from selling, or in many cases even giving away cannabis to others, and you’re still prohibited from having as much cannabis as you want. If you fail to comply with any of those rules, you still may end up in jail, or at least pay steep fines.

Again, let’s compare it to tomatoes that are legal and not decriminalized – you can buy as many tomatoes or as much ketchup or tomato soup as you like. You can buy it in a shop but you can buy it from anyone growing or reselling tomatoes as well. You can make as much tomato sauce as you please and you can have a ton of tomatoes without paying a fine or going to jail.

Seems like a very simple concept, just like tomatoes or dandelions. After all, cannabis even grows on its own, feral – without human influence, in many parts of the world for thousands of years, whether it’s Cannabis Ruderalis growing in Syberian taigas or Cannabis Sativas growing all over East and North Asia. Banning a plant that grows naturally on its own just seems unnatural, doesn’t it?

Compared to almost all other agricultural crops worldwide, cannabis is special and with an exception of some other plants, like poppy or coca plants, it’s in a category of its own. And certain restrictions exist whether legalized or decriminalized, at least when it comes to your freedom to grow, use, buy or sell it.

So, why can’t cannabis be treated just like any other agricultural crop, that it is, after all – it’s been treated like that for thousands of years, before the prohibition took a hold of it? Short answer for that, not that it’s a good reason or even a valid reason is – cannabis gets you “high”, at least cannabis that’s high in THC.

Regulating cannabis

Some look at it as a blessing, some as a curse but it is a fact that cannabis has psychoactive compounds that will make a person feel “high” or intoxicated.

Just because something is legal, that doesn’t mean it’s free and that you’re allowed to do whatever you want and like with it. There are many things that are legal or decriminalized but you can only use, sell or buy them under certain conditions like – abortion, euthanasia, gambling or prostituion.

In most countries, there’s an age limit that varies from country to country, defining when a person can buy alcohol, tobacco or guns, or when a person is allowed to enter marriage or drive a car. Most of those limits are put in place for a good reason, whether it’s just practical and common sense, or it’s based on the country’s practices but in all, or at least in most of those cases, the reasoning behind it is backed up with legal, medical and other scientific facts, studies and research.

So, how should cannabis be regulated? Cannabis has many uses, the main two, as far as most governments are concerned, are medicinal and “recreational”.

When it comes to medicinal use of cannabis, cannabis should absolutely be regulated and the regulations should be very strict and thoroughly enforced, just like with any other medicine. That just makes sure that the medicine people are taking is clean and safe for patients to use. And more importantly – that the medicine that’s being prescribed can actually treat the conditions and illnesses that it’s prescribed for.

All drugs and medications need to go through several phases of testing and research before they’re allowed to be registered as medicine and prescribed. Although cannabis is a plant, many cannabis products like oils, concentrates, tinctures, balms and others have somewhat proprietary formulas and mixtures. Regulation just makes sure that all those ingredients and the methods used to produce a certain product are safe for human use.

Many of those products claim medicinal effects and properties that are associated with cannabis and various other cannabis products but just because a certain product has cannabis in it, that doesn’t mean that the product itself can work in the same or similar way as any other cannabis product will. In fact, in many cases, it won’t – whether it’s because of the different dose, different method of administration or something else.

Registering a product as medicine, not only confirms that it can be successfully used to treat specified conditions but also allows for that product to be covered by insurance and healthcare. Sadly, for a lot of people, cannabis medicine is just unjustifiably too expensive and they can’t afford it and because it’s not registered as medicine, it’s not covered by their health plan or insurance, making it effectively unavailable for them.

Regulating medical cannabis means that the producers need to grow that cannabis in a safe way, without the use of harmful substances like some of the pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals like plant growth regulators. Regulation also makes sure that there aren’t any, or at least too much, of foreign materials, bacteria or viruses in the products being sold – like mold, mildew, bud rot or animal droppings that may affect the patient’s health. In most cases, regulations of that kind, have just been copied from tobacco and applied to cannabis, which is not ideal and could certainly use a (massive) improvement.

Unlike with medical use, “recreational” use shouldn’t be heavily regulated. Again, think of it as selling fruit or vegetables – you don’t get a certificate that every fruit is clean and safe for you to use. Many of the items you can buy, whether it’s on farmer’s markets or in big shops just offer it as is, some have an occasional worm in it and some have stuff that’s really bad for you. In many cases, products get recalled, because testing found some kind of a bacteria or foreign matter in the products which declared the production series unsafe for human consumption but there’s no mandatory testing on any of those products.

Of course, there are differences in food and vegetables that you buy, some are grown in huge warehouses and greenhouses using Monsanto’s fertilizers and pesticides and some are grown organically, on a much smaller scale. Some are certified organic, some claim to be – without the certification but you have a choice when you buy those products. Farmer’s or producer’s reputation is what guarantees that they make a good product and if you don’t agree with it, or had a bad experience with their produce, you’ll probably avoid buying from them in the future.

It should be the same with cannabis – just like you can visit an apple farm and buy apples directly from a farmer, you should be able and free to do it with “recreational” cannabis too. That doesn’t mean that recreational cannabis producers shouldn’t grow their cannabis in the same, safe and as clean as possible way, like medicinal cannabis is, or that they shouldn’t test their product.

Having a third-party lab testing is good for all the parties included, starting from the producer – who gets to know what kind of quality of product he has produced, the distributors or sellers – who get to double check that the product they bought and are selling is what the producer is claiming to be and, of course, for the end user or customer itself, for the exact same reasons.

Testing for potency and cannabinoid and terpene profiles helps the consumers to get a product that best suits their wishes and needs. In most cases cannabis that has 25% THC will fetch a better price than cannabis that has been tested at 10% THC. Without actually testing your product, you can just claim that you have great weed and people who buy it will see for themselves but why not test it and prove it.

If you have a choice of buying cannabis that has been third-party tested and that has a lab report showing what the product actually is and you have cannabis that doesn’t have it, the majority of consumers will choose the one with the lab test. It’s the same situation with pesticides, herbicides and other contaminants that “medical cannabis” is tested for. If you see buds that have visible mold or mildew on them, you’ll probably avoid buying them but a lot of contaminants like heavy metals, viruses and bacteria aren’t always visible to a naked eye.

There’s absolutely no reason why a producer wouldn’t want to make sure that their product is safe for their customers, except the price of testing. But, if a producer doesn’t have 200-300$ for the testing, maybe there are other issues in place as well, after all – that’s just a price of a few grams and at least a few kilos of harvest, that would hardly put a dent in their profits.

We can again look at any other agricultural crop and the practices they apply – farmers selling organically certified produce get a higher price for their crops. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily better or healthier for you than the one that didn’t have their products certified, in fact they can be grown in exactly the same way but the one who actually got the certificate will get a better price – because they can actually prove it.

Remember: It is illegal to germinate cannabis seeds in many countries including the UK. It is our duty to inform you of this fact and to urge you to obey all of your local laws to the letter. The Vault only ever sells or sends out seeds for souvenir, collection or novelty purposes.

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