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A Year in Review: Medical Marijuana Updates from 2023

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During the past year, the medical cannabis industry has been in the news and a strong political focal point for legal reform. Since the 1930s and the Anslinger era, cannabis has been categorized as a vice, a harmful illicit substance, and people who use it medicinally have been the subject of inaccurate social stereotypes.

Compared to public impressions of cannabis fifty years ago, there has been a powerful shift that acknowledges that medical marijuana programs have improved health and wellness for millions of Americans. Many also feel that cannabis, for adult use, should be regulated like other controlled substances, such as alcohol or tobacco products.

In 2023, that swing toward a positive cannabis social narrative influenced legal reform for the national cannabis industry with laws like the SAFER Banking Act. Further reparation for individuals charged with simple possession crimes came in the form of an expansion of federal expungement eligibility and groundbreaking studies about the wellness potential of cannabis.

Last year was very positive and progressive for cannabis. Here are some of the most important events that caused shifts in medical and social awareness about medical marijuana and cannabis use.

1. SAFER Banking Act

cannabis legal reform 2023

Oregon Sentar Jeffer Merkley introduced the SAFER Banking Act on September 20, 2023. The last update on this bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate, was a hearing conducted on December 6, 2023.

Inside the SAFER Banking Act are protections for federally regulated financial institutions to enable them to serve state-sanctioned cannabis-related businesses (CRBs). The proceeds from CRBs would no longer be considered illegal revenues, and banks would not be penalized by the federal government for providing financial services to cannabis cultivators, processors, product manufacturers, and ancillary businesses such as cannabis delivery and logistics services.

Making regular business banking services available to the cannabis industry would mean tremendous cost savings for CRBs. The ability to make transactions like any other business would eliminate third-party payment processor fees, which are currently labeled as “high risk” and as much as 3x more expensive compared to non-cannabis businesses.

Other tax reforms may also allow cannabis-related businesses to have the same deductions that other businesses are entitled to. That could save cannabis businesses a great deal of money, which could lower the cost of cannabis products for patients.

2. More States Legalize Recreational Cannabis

Voters in the state of Ohio moved to legalize recreational cannabis in 2023. Ohio was the only state that successfully passed adult use last year. There are now only a handful of states where cannabis is fully illegal: Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

Medical cannabis is now available in thirty-eight (38) states, while adult use is legalized in twenty-eight (28) states.

Source: Web December 31, 2023 – Disa.com

Just as taxes for other non-medicinal controlled substances, such as tobacco products and alcohol, have an added excise tax, so does recreational marijuana. In most states where both adult use and medical marijuana are legalized, patients have additional rights, such as exemption from the recreational use taxes.

Also, dispensaries are required to maintain an inventory to ensure that patients have an adequate supply of products, taking precedence over non-medical users. In some states, patients with a medical card may also access higher-potency cannabis products, particularly for degenerative diseases and terminal illnesses.

In the event of a public health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, medical cardholding patients were able to access dispensary products as an “essential service,” whereas adult-use dispensaries were not permitted to remain open.

3. Health and Human Services Suggests Rescheduling Cannabis

marijuana doctor florida

In October 2022, President Biden ordered Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a study about the impacts of decriminalizing cannabis in the United States. The Attorney General worked with HHS, and the final recommendation was issued on September 12, 2023, which approved rescheduling marijuana out of the Schedule I substances list.

The drug enforcement administration has never supported rescheduling marijuana. After all, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was established in the 1930s Anslinger era, where cannabis prohibition (propaganda and stigmas) was established. However, the DEA typically cooperates with HHS recommendations, and some feel that cannabis will be added to the list of Schedule III Drugs within 1-2 years.

Potential Benefits for Patients With a Medical Card

Right now, health insurance companies do not compensate for medical cannabis expenses. That includes the cost of the initial cannabis healthcare provider appointment for certification and follow-up appointments. Insurers also do not pay for any medical cannabis supplies.

Arguably, if cannabis becomes a Schedule III drug, insurance companies would have to cover some of the medical cannabis expenses for patients. Medical cannabis expenses may also become tax deductible for patients, the same as other medical services. This could go a long way to making medical marijuana more affordable for patients.

4. President Biden Expands Federal Expungement Eligibility

President Joe Biden announced an expansion of the terms of eligibility for federal cannabis criminal expungement on December 22, 2023. This new eligibility made it possible for more people who have been charged with simple possession crimes to apply to have their criminal records removed.

Anyone who received a simple cannabis possession charge, which was a federal felony offense from the 1970s to the present day, may apply for expungement. Erasing a criminal record can allow Americans impacted by “The War on Drugs” relief to qualify for new jobs, make people eligible to be bonded for certain occupations, and remove difficulties with home rental, student loans, international travel, and more.

5. Support for Legalization and Decriminalization Hits All-Time High

medical marijuana 2023

On November 8, 2023, Kyle Jaeger for Marijuana Moment discussed the new Gallup poll that was released that month. The data reported that public support for marijuana legalization hit an all-time record high of 70%.

The support for legalization and decriminalization was equal in states that have completed or are in the process of major cannabis legal reform and those living in states where personal use is illegal, carrying significant penalties, including fines and incarceration.

Gallup reported that the support for decriminalizing cannabis has never been higher since 1969 when they first began tracking public opinion on cannabis in the United States. The survey also indicated that the support was bipartisan; the majority of respondents who approved it were Republican.

6. New Clinical Studies About Cannabis and Symptom Management

We have previously shared the top cannabis studies from 2022 on our blog. During the past year, more evidence-based research about the possible wellness benefits of cannabis consumption emerged. For a long time, the federal government refused to consider rescheduling marijuana or cannabis legal reform because there were insufficient clinical studies.

Conversely, the U.S. Federal Government also made it exceedingly difficult for domestic health studies to access permission for cannabis research and the supplies of cannabis required for analysis. In December 2022, the Biden administration removed many of the obstacles to cannabis research.

New Cannabis Research That Patients Should Know About

When it comes to the long-term use of medical marijuana, more research is needed because there are very few human studies (compared to animal research), and longitudinal studies don’t exist at the moment. But with every research study comes more understanding about how cannabis can be used to improve the lives of patients suffering from debilitating mental or physical health conditions.

Some of the most talked about cannabis research studies in 2023 included:

One of the most exciting announcements was a grant of $3.2 million to a University of Buffalo researcher provided by the National Cancer Institute. The study will include Thomas Jefferson University and Oregon Health and Science University, with three research sites conducting a 12-month observation of the effects of cannabis among cancer patients receiving immunotherapy.

Researchers will evaluate whether cannabis can advance treatment outcomes for patients with twenty different tumor types. The study will provide a new understanding of the potential benefits of cannabinoid treatment and how it impacts immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs).

With federal legal reform regarding cannabis, removing criminal penalties for cannabis use, and reclassifying cannabis to a Schedule III versus Schedule I substance, there will be new opportunities to unlock the mysteries of the cannabis plant and how it can be further used for medical purposes, to improve the lives of patients.




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