With the rise of Delta-8 THC and ever-changing laws, cannabis users understandably have some confusion about the nuances of cannabis laws and how they apply to the various products of the hemp plant.

Here, we’ll get into the legality of Delta-9 THC, how it compares to Delta-8 THC, and other issues pertaining to the cannabis law.

What Is Delta-9 THC?

Of all the 100+ cannabinoids (compounds unique to the cannabis plant), Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) is indisputably the most prominent in the popular imagination.

THC owes its fame to its role as the main psychoactive component of cannabis – the compound that triggers the often-euphoric “high” characteristic of cannabis consumption:

“THC which is the major psychoactive component is legal in several states and used by several patients for medical and recreational purposes.

Unfortunately, that notoriety comes at a hefty legal cost:

“FDA classifies cannabis under Schedule 1 and thus its use is forbidden in any products.”

Most cannabis laws at home and abroad target Delta-9 THC. In fact, Delta-9 is one of the three cannabinoids that the United Nations has scheduled in its Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

In recent decades, as the evidence of the various medicinal properties of THC and other cannabinoids has accumulated, cannabis activists and medical professionals have petitioned for reform of laws restricting its use.

A Brief History of Cannabis-Related Legal Reform

The UN initially classified Delta-9 THC in Schedule 1 in 1971, which includes:

“Supposedly dangerous drugs claimed to create a serious risk to public health, and whose therapeutic value is doubtful or nil. It includes synthetic hallucinogens such as LSD and natural ones like DMT. The most controversial drug in this category is Cannabis, which is of great therapeutic value according to many doctors.”

But in 1991 the international organization removed the cannabinoid from Schedule 1 and reassigned it to Schedule II, which includes:

“Stimulants of the amphetamine type, of limited therapeutic value, as well as some analgesics such as phencyclidine.”

However, despite international progress, cannabis remains federally illegal across the entire US. It has remained classified as Schedule 1 since the initial Congressional passing of the Controlled Substances Act over four decades ago. Schedule 1 in the United States is defined as

“Drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.”

Clearly, the federal government’s equal treatment of cannabis and dangerous drugs like heroin is not based on science. Cannabis has numerous potentially beneficial health impacts for a variety of health conditions, which again has led to intense pressure to reform cannabis laws:

“Cannabis appears to alleviate pain, insomnia, and may be helpful in relieving anxiety. Cannabis has shown extreme promise in the treatment of numerous medical problems and deserves to be released from the current Schedule I federal prohibition against research and prescription.”

The good news is that various US states have recently taken the lead to either decriminalize or partially or fully legalize Delta-9 THC and the entirety of the cannabis plant. We’ll provide a state-by-state breakdown later on.

All of that means that the laws surrounding Delta-9 THC are fluid. With that caveat in mind, let’s get into the current state of its legality in the United States as of 2022.

How Is ‘Cannabis’ Legally Defined?

Before we get into where Delta-9 THC is legal, it’s first important to understand how the government classifies “marijuana” according to its scheduling.

“Marijuana” is defined according to its Delta-9 THC content:

“Marijuana is defined as the cannabis plant, including seeds and its derivative products, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration over 0.3 percent on a dry-weight basis.”

What that means is that, according to the US Farm Bill of 2018, other cannabis products such as Delta-8 THC and CBD that contain less than 0.3% CBD are totally and fully legal at the federal level – which is why you can, for example, purchase CBD at your local convenience store or online from Sympleaf Wellness.

Where Is Delta-9 Legal in the United States?

Individual states have taken the lead in cannabis legalization and regulation. Because the federalist political system in the US is unique, states have an unusual amount of leeway in terms of creating and instituting their own drug policies.

Source: DISA

Delta-9 THC is fully legal in:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

What About Delta-9 THC Laws in Georgia?

In Georgia, cannabis products containing Delta-9 THC remain illegal statewide. Possession of 1 ounce or less is a misdemeanor with relatively mild penalties, usually involving a fine and minimal jail time. Higher amounts and repeat offenses come with harsher penalties.

Georgia law does have a special carve-out for “low-THC oil” for Georgians that have a number of specified health conditions, ranging from epilepsy to cancer.  

Several municipalities around Georgia have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis on their own, effectively making them “sanctuary cities” for cannabis users.

Delta-8 THC vs. Delta-9 THC

It’s worth differentiating here between Delta-8 THC and Delta-9 THC, closely related cannabinoids separated by a world of difference from a legal perspective.

Each is a subtle variation of tetrahydrocannabinol, a cannabinoid unique to the cannabis plant. The abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol is THC. Here is the full scientific nomenclature for Delta-8 and Delta-9, respectively:

  • Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC)
  • Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC)

The essential difference is that Delta-8 has a double-bond is on the 8th carbon atom in its molecular sequence; Delta-9’s is on the 9th. Again, the difference from a chemistry perspective is minimal; but, from a legal one, it is highly significant.

The effects of Delta-8 and Delta-9 are similar, but Delta-8’s reactivity with the body’s endocannabinoid (ECS) system is significantly weaker – meaning its physiological effects may not be as profound or long-lasting as Delta-9’s. 

Both Delta-8 and Delta-9 are largely safe from a clinical perspective. They may produce uncomfortable psychological effects in some people, but they are usually well-tolerated and pose no overdose risk.

Contact Sympleaf Wellness For More Clarification on Delta-9 THC Laws

Knowledge is power!

Part of our work at Sympleaf Wellness is public outreach and education. We’re always ready and willing to discuss the often-complex labyrinth of overlapping federal, state, and local laws governing cannabis and Delta-9 THC. Feel free to contact us