To say marijuana stocks like Canopy Growth Corp (OTCMKTS:TWMJF), Aurora Cannabis Inc (OTCMKTS:ACBFF) and even GW Pharmaceuticals PLC- ADR (NASDAQ:GWPH) have been a little raucous lately would be an understatement. They’ve been on a wild roller coaster ride, doubling — on average — in value between October and the end of last year, then taking as much as a 20% hit with the nation’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he was reserving the right to prosecute users and sellers of marijuana after all.
The Obama era’s Drug Enforcement Agency had said (more or less) it wasn’t going to bother taking aim at small-time violations of the federal law that technically still outlaws it in an environment where several states have legalized it.
Fair enough. It probably isn’t worth Sessions’ and the DEA’s time and resources to pursue it — and it doesn’t appear the Department of Justice intends to apply a full-court press on the matter — but if it’s a law, it’s a law, and Sessions took an oath to uphold all the laws of the land.
If this is the direction we’re going though, can we at least start to deal with the reality that hemp and marijuana are two very different things?
Still Illegal, But Newly Enforced
If you’re reading this, then the odds are good that you already know AG Jeff Sessions has rolled back the Cole Memorandum, which essentially told the nation’s Drug Enforcement Agency to look the other way in states where marijuana had been legalized for medicinal as well as recreational purposes … presuming those respective states were handling matters well (and most have).
The Cole memo reflected changing attitudes and perceptions about cannabis, even if it didn’t actually change the law. Marijuana is still technically categorized as a schedule 1 controlled substance at the federal level, regardless of its legal status in individual states.
The potential, expected confusion has indeed ensued.
Lost in the shuffle, however, is the more important aspect of the matter. That is, not all cannabis induces a “high.” Simultaneously, some of it has well-proven medicinal value. Still, other pieces of the non-psychotropic version of cannabis plants offer incredible industrial value, but because it comes from what’s understood to be a marijuana plant (even if misguidedly), such uses aren’t given a chance to blossom to their full potential.
Not All Cannabis Is the Same
Calling a spade a spade, there are pot-proponents that will say and do anything as means of making it easier to acquire marijuana, or at least some sort of product containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. That’s the part of a marijuana plant — part of the cannabis plant family — that causes the euphoric feeling recreational users are seeking.
Other strains and parts of cannabis plants are very low in THC. Some of these other parts of the plant, however, are loaded with cannabidiol, or CBD, which offers a vast array of health benefits.
To its credit, the Drug Enforcement Administration has finally started clarifying how it views CBD, THC and hemp as different parts of different kinds of cannabis plants that are best suited for different uses. To the DEA’s discredit though, the clarifications to date remain murky … perhaps by design, and perhaps because the agency is simply struggling to grasp the nuanced but stark differences. Sadly, Sessions’ most recent move doesn’t do much of anything to protect legitimate medical uses of CBD, nor does it effectively do anything to deter the personal use of marijuana for non-medicinal reasons. More than anything, Sessions’ action is simply a notification that the DOJ may or may not begin enforcing federal laws as they stand right now.
Bottom Line for Marijuana
Stand on whichever side of the fence you want with marijuana … recreational, medicinal or both. If you’re standing with the “never for any reason” crowd though, know you’re standing in the minority. As of the most recent poll, 61% of Americans believe it should be legalized nationwide.
Just don’t grumble at Sessions if you’re in support of legalized marijuana for any purpose though. The laws he’s sworn to enforce make it clear that marijuana loaded with THC is technically illegal, and the use of CBD remains highly-regulated … and in some cases (depending on its source) is also illegal.
If nothing else, the contentious action from Jeff Sessions will finally force an intelligent discussion that will at least start to hammer out the specifics of federal laws in place now. Who knows? We might even update or outright change the federal laws to reflect our growing understanding of what cannabis sometimes is, and sometimes isn’t.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.