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Bill To Legalize Hemp Passes Key Senate Committee

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A wide-ranging agricultural bill that includes a provision to legalize hemp made its way through a crucial Senate committee on Wednesday, passing 20-1.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) inserted the cannabis provisions—which would remove hemp from the federal definition of marijuana and also free up hemp cultivators to receive federal crop insurance—into the 2018 Farm Bill. The move builds upon the senator’s successful effort to include protections for industrial hemp research programs against federal interference in the 2014 version of the bill.

“I think it’s time we took this step,” McConnell said before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on Wednesday. “I think everybody has now figured it out that this is not the other plant,” he added, referring to hemp’s cannabis cousin, marijuana.

“All the people in rural Kentucky who grew up with tobacco are hoping that this will be really something. And as we all know, hemp is very diversified. It can end up in your car dashboard, it can end up in food, it can end up in certain kinds of pharmaceuticals. It’s time to figure it out and see where the market will take us. I think it’s an important new development in American agriculture.”

McConnell also appeared on the Senate floor earlier Wednesday to reaffirm his support for the bill’s hemp provision.

“It’s a landmark piece of legislation that will benefit farmers and communities throughout our country,” McConnell said. “I’m particularly excited that the legislation being considered today includes provisions from the Hemp Farming Act of 2018…which I introduced earlier this year.”

“This will empower farmers in Kentucky and other states to fully realize the potential of industrial hemp.”

Late on Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) filed an amendment to the Farm Bill that would require the Justice Department to “modify the definition of the term ‘hemp’ and make a determination as to whether cannabidiol [CBD] should be a controlled substance” under federal law.

Hemp legalization advocates swiftly responded, urging committee members to oppose the proposed changes, which they feared would gut the intent of McConnell’s legislation.

Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture also tweeted that “I STRONGLY oppose Senator Grassley’s Amendment.”

Grassley spoke in defense of his proposed amendment, lamenting that he’d “objected on procedural grounds” to the hemp legalization provision and was ignored. He also argued that he’d support the legalization of industrial hemp, but not its derivatives such as CBD. Grassley voiced concerns that the bill would “allow any snake oil salesman” to peddle unregulated CBD products to patients suffering from conditions such as epilepsy and anxiety.

Grassley also claimed that the hemp legalization provision falls “squarely within the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction,” which he chairs, as opposed to the Senate Committee On Agriculture.

Notably, however, he didn’t call for a committee vote on his proposed amendment. Instead, he asked that members “work with me to modify this provision after this bill gets out of committee.”

McConnell pushed back against the senator’s remarks. He said that he felt confident in the integrity of the bill and the safeguards it provides after consulting with the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the ranking member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Grassley’s amendment would “undercut essential premise of the bill, namely that help and its derivatives should be a legal agricultural commodity,” McConnell said.

“Hemp should be allowed to flourish again in this county…”

During the Wednesday committee markup, several lawmakers voiced support for legalizing hemp, including Sens. Michael Bennet, (D-CO), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Though the bill could still be subject to further amendments when it reaches the Senate floor, it’s doubtful that the hemp provisions would face significant resistance given their sizable bipartisan support. McConnell is joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), among others, who also favor of the provision.

McConnell also said he received assurances from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch marijuana prohibitionist, that while he wouldn’t embrace the hemp legalization move, he “is not going to oppose us,” the Associated Press reported.

Lawmakers argue that federal laws pertaining to hemp cultivation have done a disservice to farmers and businesses in the United States. While it’s legal to sell hemp products, such as clothing and cosmetics, it remains illegal to cultivate the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana under federal law.

Wyden took to the Senate floor last week, accompanied by two baskets full of hemp products, to make just that point.

“There can’t be many policies on the books that are more anti-farmer than that one,” he said. “Hemp growers in places like Canada and China must just be laughing all the way to the bank. They’re cashing in, while our farmers have their hands tied by the current hemp restrictions.”

And in a statement provided to Marijuana Moment on Wednesday, Wyden said that [l]ifting the nonsensical ban on growing hemp in Oregon and nationwide reverses decades of policymaking that hurt farmers’ ability to innovate and grow jobs here at home.”

“Our bipartisan legislation will help farmers unlock the full economic potential of industrial hemp, spurring economic growth and creating good-paying red, white, and blue jobs in rural communities across the country. Passing the Hemp Farming Act through the Senate Agriculture Committee marks a huge step toward allowing consumers to buy products made with hemp grown in America.”

“It’s a crock,” Schumer, the Democratic leader, said last month, of the nation’s ban on hemp. “It makes no sense that the [Drug Enforcement Administration] is the primary regulator, and that they stop farmers and investors from growing hemp. Why are we buying hemp from other countries, when we have hundreds of acres that could be grown right here in our backyard?”

In a related move, for the third year in a row, the Senate unanimously adopted a resolution last week that acknowledged “the growing economic potential of industrial hemp.” But with the 2018 Farm Bill, this could represent the first year that a hemp legalization provision actually passes in the Senate.

All of this hemp momentum comes as many lawmakers are vying for broader cannabis reform measures, including the newly filed STATES Act, which would exempt marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act for states where the plant has been legalized. It would also provide protections for banks dealing with legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.

President Donald Trump told reporters that he “probably will end up supporting that [bill],” last week.

Attempts to include hemp-related amendments to the House version of the Farm Bill were blocked last month. That said, the Senate leader is in a good position to push the legislation forward through a bicameral conference committee, which will eventually craft a final bill to send to the president’s desk.

McConnell said a full Senate vote on the bill would take place before July 4.

See below for a summary of the Farm Bill’s hemp provisions, as prepared by the Agriculture Committee:

Sec. 7125 Supplemental and Alternative Crops; Hemp
x Reauthorizes a research project for supplemental and alternative crops including canola and hemp.

Sec. 7401 Critical Agricultural Materials Act
x Reauthorizes the Critical Agricultural Materials Act, and includes hemp as an eligible product.

Sec. 7415 Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research
x Requires the Secretary to conduct a study and report on the economic viability of the domestic production and sale of industrial hemp.

Sec. 10111 Hemp Production
x Amends the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to allow states to regulate hemp growth and production, based on a state or tribal plan that includes information on locations of hemp production, testing for THC concentration, disposal of plants that are out of compliance, and negligence or other violations of the state or tribal plan.
x Requires states and tribes without USDA approved plans to follow federal laws and regulations promulgated by USDA on hemp production.

Sec. 10112 Rule of Construction
x Clarifies that nothing in this title authorizes interference with the interstate commerce of hemp.

Sec. 11101 Definitions
x Defines cover crop termination and defines hemp as used in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946.

Sec. 11106 Insurance period
x Amends section 508(a)(2) of the Federal Crop Insurance Act by adding hemp.

Sec. 11112 Submission of policies and materials to board.
x Amends section 508(h) of the Federal Crop Insurance Act to allow the Corporation to waive the viability and marketability requirement in the case of a policy or pilot program relating to the production of hemp.

Sec. 11120 Agricultural commodity
x Amends section 518 of the Federal Crop Insurance Act by adding hemp.

Sec. 11121 Reimbursement of research, development, and maintenance costs
x Amends section 522(b) of the Federal Crop Insurance Act to allow the Board and Corporation to waive the viability and marketability requirements in the case of research and development relating to a policy to insure the production of hemp.

UPDATE June 13, 2018 8:38am PT: This story has been updated to include new comments from Sens. Grassley and McConnell.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip

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The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.

The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”

Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:

Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.

The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.

Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.

The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.

Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

Photo courtesy of CBS 6.

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GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.

The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.

“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.

Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.

Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.

“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”

Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.

Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.

Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:

DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.

Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.

Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.

“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.

The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.

Congressman Says Marijuana Could Be Legal Sooner If Trump Stops Tweeting

Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

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Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”

“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”

What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.

That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.

“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”

She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”

“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”

“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”

Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.

Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.

“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.

The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.

Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.

Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Legalization Of Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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