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Hashish and the South: How Issues Change

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When it comes to the North vs the South in America, there is usually a pretty evident divide when it comes to social issues. From abortion to religion in schools to drugs, the South is generally slower to adopt new policies. In the case of cannabis and the south, a lot of change has happened in the last few years, signaling a massive shift in overall public perspective.

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Sometimes change comes slow to the South, and this is evident from resistance to legalized abortion, pushing religion being taught in schools, letting go of slavery (let’s not forget that one), and the decriminalization and legalization of different drugs. But even those slow with the pickup, eventually come around. Whether it’s the changing of society through new generations being born, or the insertion of new information that changes minds. Whatever the case here, and as highlighted by the last election, how cannabis is viewed in the South, has seen much change and improvement in the last few years.

The last US election, and what is the ‘South’?

The last US election was quite the circus, with a persistent battle that continued after results were in, as to who actually won. As it stands, Joe Biden was officially sworn in to the white house in January, effectively ending that conundrum. But perhaps bigger news than a post-election presidential standoff, is the inclusion of several more states when it comes to cannabis legalization. In fact, for the first time, it became evident that cannabis is no longer shunned in the South, with new laws reflecting this change in perspective.

It wasn’t just the South that saw these changes. Four new states became legal for cannabis recreationally: Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey. On the medical front, South Dakota (pulling double duty) and Mississippi joined the ranks of the legal for medical use group. Of all these states to change policy, the one that stands out the most, is Mississippi.

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Why is Mississippi interesting? Because it’s a southern state, and the only southern state to be on the list of changed state policies for this past election. When talking about southern states, there is not actually a strict definition. Being a ‘southern state’ does not necessarily mean being in the south of the country as California, New Mexico, and Arizona, all of which are touching Mexican borders, are not considered part of the south. On the other hand, West Virginia, which isn’t really all that south, is generally included in southern states. The following are considered the southern states of America: South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Maryland, Florida, and Texas.

Many people define the ‘South’ simply by the inclusion of states that fought for the confederacy during the civil war. This is in contrast to the US federal government which includes Delaware, Washington, DC, and Oklahoma.

Then there’s the deep south states, also known as “the Cotton States”, since these states relied on cotton farming prior to the civil war. The deep south only applies to the southeastern corner of the country, and includes: Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. These states were the biggest supporters of slavery, and keeping it intact.

Where is the South now with cannabis?

The first thing to know, is that of the 15 States, one district, and two territories (Guam and Mariana Islands) that have legalized cannabis for recreational use, none of this exists in the South, no matter how it is defined. So far, all progress made in cannabis legalization in the South, has to do with a change to medicinal legalization policies and decriminalization policies.

For the purpose of this article, we will not use the federal government’s definition of the South, but the one more generally used that I listed above, so Delaware, Washington, DC, and Oklahoma are out. The southern states that have legalized for medicinal use so far are: Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, Texas (kind of), and Mississippi.

In terms of decriminalization measures, the following southern states have some sort of cannabis decriminalization, though what this means varies greatly by location: Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee (partially) and Virginia. Of the southern states, Maryland, Mississippi, and Virginia have both a full medical legalization, and a decriminalization measure.

The biggest holdouts for cannabis legalization are in the South, highlighting how some places change more slowly. Southern states where cannabis is completely illegal (or close to it) are: South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee.

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Beth Edmonds