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Marijuana legalization, hemp use advance in U.S.

SANTA FE, N.M. (BP) — Legislation decriminalizing simple possession of recreational marijuana in New Mexico is awaiting Gov. Michelle Grisham’s signature, days after Florida lifted a ban on medical marijuana cigarettes.

In related corporate news, CVS Pharmacy announced it will begin selling health and beauty products containing cannabidiol oil (CBD) from the hemp plant, a close relative of marijuana legalized nationally in December 2018 that does not produce marijuana’s characteristic euphoria.

New Mexico lawmakers approved a bill March 15 to allow first-offense possession of a half-ounce of marijuana with no criminal penalty, but allowing fines of up to $50 on a case-by-case basis. Possession of larger amounts remains subject to jail time, but possession is only deemed a felony at eight ounces or more, according to the legislation, Senate Bill 323, posted at nmlegis.gov. Grisham is expected sign the bill into law.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill March 18 lifting a ban on smokable medical marijuana. Florida voters approved medical marijuana use in 2016, but the state enacted a ban on smokable medical marijuana the following year. A circuit court judge said the ban was illegal in June 2018.

With the legislative advances, recreational marijuana is legal in at least 11 states and Washington D.C. At least 14 states have decriminalized its use.

In 2018, according to the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), 21 states considered bills to legalize recreational marijuana use among adults. In September 2018, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where 50,000 people reside, became the first U.S. territory to legalize marijuana use and commercial sales through the legislative process, MedicalMarijuanaInc.com reported.

Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized the product in January, according to MedicalMarijuanaInc.com.

CVS announced March 20 it will begin selling products made with CBD from hemp at 800 of its pharmacies in eight states, namely Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Tennessee.

Items will include creams, sprays and roll-ons marketed “as an alternative source of relief,” CVS told NBC News. Hemp has been touted as an effective treatment for several ailments including anxiety, pain, inflammation and even cancer, but no claims have been verified by the FDA.

“We are carrying hemp-derived CBD products in select states to help meet consumer demand for alternative care options,” NBC quoted CVS health spokesperson Mike DeAngelis as saying March 21.

According to the latest poll from Pew Research, 62 percent of Americans said in 2018 that marijuana use should be legalized. Only 31 percent favored legalization in 2000, Pew said.

Legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use is advancing at the state level, even as marijuana remains illegal in federal law for all purposes. Generally, the U.S. government has not imposed the federal criminalization of marijuana on states.

As of December 2018, recreational marijuana use was legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont, according to NCSL, but new legislative initiatives are fluid.