Why Marijuana Impairment Testing Must Be Made a Priority in Workers’ Comp

This definitive timeline of cannabis legalization in the U.S. shows the reach of marijuana throughout the country, leading to more employers seeking impairment testing.
By: | June 7, 2019

A total of 33 states now have some measure of legal access to marijuana — and more will follow. But beyond state-level legislation, the past year has also included events of national significance.

Viewed through a wide lens, some industry watchers believe that these developments have set the stage for full-scale marijuana legalization at the federal level, and soon.

Here’s a timeline of key events in the fast-moving cannabis legal landscape over the past 18 months:

January 21, 2018: Vermont became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the legislature, rather than a ballot initiative. The previous eight states to legalize marijuana, along with Washington D.C., did so through a statewide vote. The measure allowed for the legalization of cannabis cultivation, but lawmakers failed to approve a plan to legalize the sale of cannabis.

May 3, 2018: Voters in Maine legalized recreational marijuana through a ballot initiative back in 2016, but the government couldn’t implement the law due to repeated gubernatorial vetoes. The issue was resolved in May 2018, when the state’s House and Senate voted to override the veto once and for all.

June 25, 2018: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved cannabis-derived Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. This is the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance derived from marijuana.

June 26, 2018: Via ballot initiative, Oklahoma became the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana. Oklahoma is the first legal state that does not have a list of approved conditions, instead allowing marijuana to be recommended “according to the accepted standards a reasonable and prudent physician would follow when recommending or approving any medication” for anyone over the age of 18. Oklahoma’s bill also legalized growing marijuana for medical purposes.

September 28, 2018: The DEA filed an order intended to clarify its position that despite FDA approval of Epidiolex, only Epidiolex would be rescheduled as a Class V drug. All other cannabis derived drugs will remain Class I until they earn FDA approval individually.

Dec. 20, 2018: President Trump signed the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which legalized hemp — a variety of cannabis that does not produce the psychoactive component of marijuana.

The FDA clarified that despite the new status of hemp, CBD remains illegal to add to food or health products without explicit FDA approval.

March 1, 2019. The Vermont Senate gave final approval to legislation that would establish a state-regulated retail marijuana market by April 2021.

March 25, 2019: New Jersey lawmakers postponed a vote to legalize recreational marijuana, despite support from the state’s governor, legislative leaders, and a majority of residents. It’s possible that the state’s legislature will revisit the issue before the June 30 deadline for the next state budget.

March 28, 2019: The U.S. House Financial Services Committee voted 45 to 15 to advance the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, intended to shield banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by financial regulators. At the end of April, however, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee said it was unclear whether his panel would take on the bill, citing the need to resolve the conflict between criminal and financial law.

Some proponents believe that passage of the Act would be one of the first milestones on a congressional path toward ending federal cannabis prohibition.

May 31, 2019: The Food and Drug Administration opens its first public hearing on legalizing CBD in food and drinks, to figure out how to regulate the newly legalized cannabis product.

June 25. 2019: Illinois became the 11th state to legalize marijuana. The state’s marijuana law will allow recreational possession and sales starting on January 1, 2020, creating a new system of taxes and regulations. Adults 21 and older will be allowed to possess and buy cannabis, although tourists will be allowed to buy less than state residents. Cities and counties may prohibit sales, but not possession, within their borders.

The Push for Recreational Legalization: What’s Next

On March 19, Pennsylvania lawmakers submitted a proposed bill that would legalize cannabis for adult use. Pa.’s law would allow each household to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use.

The final of three pieces of marijuana legalization legislation in Connecticut passed a key legislative committee on May 1. Connecticut’s bill would use most cannabis revenue for job training, education and community rebuilding in urban areas impacted by the war on drugs.

Legislators must now stitch together the three bills, creating a final bill to be put before state lawmakers for a vote before the legislative session ends on June 5.

In March, Rhode Island hired Colorado’s former Director of Marijuana Coordination to guide the state in its efforts to legalize adult-use cannabis. State’s lawmakers have also worked with Massachusetts leaders to develop regulatory principles and policies. Rhode Island’s legislative session adjourns June 30.

New Hampshire’s governor adamantly opposes cannabis legalization. Even so, the New Hampshire House voted 200-163 to legalize adult-use cannabis in early April. The bill is currently being reviewed by Senate committees.

In January, supported by state governor Andrew Cuomo, New York lawmakers proposed a plan for cannabis legalization, contained within a state appropriations package. The bill floundered, however, facing opposition from lawmakers who say the legalization bill doesn’t proactively include strategies to ensure equitable participation for minority businesses. &

Michelle Kerr is Workers’ Compensation Editor and National Conference Chair for Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

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