Banning a plant with hundreds of industrial and medical uses was never going to work out well, but 2022 saw marijuana prohibition reach peak absurdity, not to mention peak confusion for consumers and new businesses trying to make sense of it all.
At first glance, cannabis reform appears to be humming along smoothly. Maryland, Missouri and Rhode Island approved legalization initiatives in 2022 as states such as New Mexico and New York raced to establish regulations for legal recreational sales. New laws in mostly blue states expunged cannabis arrests from criminal records for thousands of people. President Joe Biden made moves to pardon federal marijuana prisoners and reconsider the federal “scheduling” of marijuana, a baby step toward potentially ending federal prohibition administratively. Lawmakers debated cannabis reform bills in Congress, even if the vast majority were never passed into law.
A look under the hood, however, reveals regulatory chaos in a nation where marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. For many people, 2022 will be remembered as the year “legal THC” hit the shelves, including in almost every state still under prohibition. The hemp industry, which previously brought us non-inebriating CBD in countless forms, leveraged sketchy chemistry and legal loopholes to evade regulation and sell various synthetic THC products that will absolutely get customers high regardless of where they live, making a mockery of what remains of prohibition.
Unlike traditional cannabis sold in legalized states, researchers know little about the potential risks of using synthetic THC, but “legal THC” products are now commonly sold online and in convenience stories. Sales are booming in states where traditional marijuana remains illegal, particularly among novice consumers and medicine seekers who prefer to avoid running afoul of the law. While the hemp industry has expanded access to cannabis edibles that can relieve conditions such as pain and insomnia, unregulated vapes and powerfully psychoactive synthetics are raising public health concerns.