Navigating the Evolving Cannabis Law Landscape

Cannabis Law Deskbook Review

Austin Bernstein and Bruce Turcott, managing editors of Cannabis Law Deskbook, join us to review how the practice area is evolving.

Thomson Reuters recently released the first broad, in-depth accounting of the evolving field of cannabis law with Cannabis Law Deskbook, published in partnership with the Attorney General Alliance. It provides a roadmap for navigating the patchwork of federal, state and local laws governing the cannabis market.

Medical Marijuana

While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, states have been at the forefront of experimenting with adult-use and medical cannabis programs. A diverse and fast-growing multibillion-dollar industry is operating within a patchwork of state laws.

Medical marijuana is used to treat a number of medical conditions, including severe pain, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer or AIDS, seizures caused by certain rare forms of epilepsy, and other chronic or debilitating diseases or disorders. It can be administered in the form of capsules, tinctures, edibles, or vaporizing.

A certifying health care practitioner can recommend the use of medical marijuana for patients who meet state eligibility requirements. Registered patients can purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries in New York, where pharmacists are available to assist with product selection, check for interactions with other medications, and educate on administration methods.

Adult-Use Marijuana

While cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug under federal law (determined to have high potential for abuse with no accepted medical use), nearly all states and territories allow some form of legal marijuana production, distribution or consumption.

The majority of legal states regulate the retail sale of marijuana through privately-owned, for-profit, commercial entities. With the exception of Washington State, all regulated markets allow at-home cultivation; however, the details vary among the states and the District of Columbia.

Across the country, laws and regulations continue to evolve for both medical and recreational marijuana. The Thomson Reuters Cannabis Law Deskbook brings together expert authors to examine the multi-faceted issues facing lawyers, lawmakers and regulators working on this emerging field. The book includes current, news-headlining cases that keep the discussion interesting and engaging.


Hemp is a cultivar of the cannabis sativa plant that’s used for its fiber, seeds and oil. The key difference between hemp and marijuana is the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in each plant, with hemp having less than 0.3% THC.

The 0.3 percent threshold has been chosen to help distinguish hemp from marijuana, because even small amounts of THC in the cannabis sativa plant can cause people to experience psychoactive effects. However, there are some complexities involved in the distinction.

This first-of-its-kind book addresses the complexities found in this emerging field, authored by attorneys and staff who are on the front lines in states implementing groundbreaking adult-use and medical cannabis programs. It also helps readers navigate the patchwork of federal, state and local laws that govern cannabis and hemp markets.


The emergence of cannabis legalization presents unique challenges to federal, state and local law enforcement officials, policy makers and regulators, attorneys working with private sector clients, industry stakeholders and others who must navigate the growing patchwork of laws that regulate the U.S. and Canadian markets. A first-of-its-kind, Thomson Reuters and the Attorney General Alliance have joined forces to produce Cannabis Law Deskbook, a comprehensive accounting of this complex field.

Co-managing editors Austin Bernstein and Bruce Turcott, both former assistant attorneys general, have been on the front lines as states experiment with their innovative adult-use and medical cannabis programs. Their goal is to help public sector and private counsel navigate the many complexities of this emerging area of law and policy, while respecting states’ role as laboratories of democracy.


In Washington, where marijuana was made legal for adults in 2012, a new study found that officers, who are on the front lines of enforcement, have a range of concerns about cannabis, from increased drugged driving to their perception of insufficient police preparation for legalization. The study can help other states address their own cannabis-related issues.

Employers may need to modify their current drug testing policies, or at least change which drugs they test for. Moreover, since federal law still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, institutions that receive federal grants or contracts may have to comply with the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act’s testing program requirements.

The Deskbook addresses these and other complexities in state cannabis programs. It is a tool for attorneys, policy makers, public sector subject matter experts and other stakeholders.

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