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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

Senate Votes To Send Hemp Legalization To President Trump’s Desk

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The Senate approved a far-reaching agriculture bill that includes a provision to legalize industrial hemp on Tuesday.

The vote gets the U.S. one step closer to ending its decades-long prohibition of a non-psychoactive plant in the cannabis family, empowering farmers to cultivate and sell a lucrative crop that can be used to create an exceptional range of products—from cosmetics to concrete.

The Senate and House Agriculture Committees had reconciled their respective versions of the 2018 Farm Bill last month, and lawmakers said they hoped to get it passed before the year’s end.

It seems Congress is positioned to meet that projection. The bill passed 87-13 in the Senate, and the House is expected to take it up soon. If the House approves the bill, it will be sent to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

While debate on the legislation extended over several months, it quickly became apparent that the hemp legalization provision had bipartisan support. Separately, a compromise was reached over a provision that would ban people with felony convictions from participating in the hemp industry. The ban would be lifted after 10 years under the current legislation.

Hemp would no longer be controlled by the Justice Department if it’s ultimately approved. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate the crop.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others cheered the inclusion of legal hemp in the Farm Bill.

You can read the full text of the hemp legalization provisions in the Farm Bill here.

Next House Agriculture Committee Chair Might Grow Hemp On His Farm

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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Trump Threatens Government Shutdown, Raising Concern For Legal Marijuana Industry

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President Donald Trump is threatening to shut down the government if Democrats refuse billions of dollars in funding for a border wall—but the consequences of that action would extend far beyond border security.

If the president makes good on his promise to withhold his signature from essential appropriations bills this time, that could inadvertently leave the legal marijuana industry vulnerable to federal drug enforcement actions. A spending bill rider that has protected state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention since 2014 would expire, while the Justice Department and prosecutors would generally remain operational.

That’s because the Department of Justice has a contingency plan in place in the event of a government shutdown, and it exempts many employees, including U.S. attorneys and those who work for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from furlough.

“Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property,” the Justice Department explains in its contingency plan. U.S. attorneys are protected because they’re presidentially appointed and “are needed to address ongoing criminal matters and civil matters of urgency throughout the nation.”

“All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counternarcotics investigations,” the document says.

The so-called Rohrabacher-Farr amendment would not be exempted, though. The legislation—which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws—is part of the the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill. While five out of the 12 annual appropriation bills for Fiscal Year 2019 have already been signed into law by the president, the CJS bill is yet to receive House of Senate floor votes.

Typically, the deadline to get appropriations passed is the end of the preceding fiscal year, September 30. But rather than hold a vote or allow federal departments to lose funding, lawmakers have passed a series of continuing resolutions this year, providing temporary funding and pushing back the deadline. The most recent two-week continuing resolution passed on December 7, so the new deadline is December 21.

It lawmakers don’t pass, or President Trump doesn’t sign, either a full-year or temporary extension of funding by then, the medical cannabis rider will expire, but federal drug enforcement capabilities will not. And that would leave medical marijuana patients and the businesses that serve them in a dicey position.

Similar concerns about the prospect of federal marijuana enforcement have been repeatedly raised under the Trump administration. In January, things seemed especially precarious, as the president’s threat of a government shutdown came weeks after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement practices.

That decision stoked fears that a shutdown would empower the Justice Department to act on the attorney general’s vehement opposition to marijuana reform. But after fewer than three days, a continuing resolution passed and state-legal marijuana activities continued unimpeded.

This time around, as the deadline approaches, the Justice Department head is Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had served as Sessions’s chief of staff. Whitaker has said he sympathizes with medical cannabis patients, but he’s also criticized the Obama administration for its marijuana enforcement policies.

There’s no telling at this point whether Whitaker, the DEA or federal prosecutors would take advantage of broad exemptions from furlough and crack down on legal medical marijuana states in the event of a shutdown. But as always, the possibility puts the cannabis industry is an uncomfortable position.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Lawmakers From Both Parties Celebrate Hemp Legalization In The Farm Bill

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Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are celebrating a hemp legalization provision that made it into the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Perhaps no one is more pleased than Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who fought for the provision over months of debate on the wide-ranging agriculture legislation. He even signed the conference report finalizing the bill language with a hemp pen on Monday.

In opening remarks from the Senate floor on Tuesday, McConnell said the inclusion of hemp legalization is “a victory for farmers and consumers throughout our country.” It builds on the progress of the hemp pilot program he helped put in the 2014 Farm Bill, the results of which he said “have been nothing short of extraordinary.”

“Now American-grown hemp can be found in your food, in your clothes and even in your car dashboard,” he said. “The results mean jobs, economic growth and new opportunity.”

“At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) helped McConnell secure hemp legalization in the agriculture legislation and said “the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country” in a press release Tuesday.

“Hemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America,” Wyden said. “Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.”

Fellow Oregon lawmaker Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) also cheered the “good news” that the provision made the cut.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) touted hemp legalization in a tweet Tuesday.

“The finish line is in sight,” Bennet wrote. “Now Congress needs to do what’s right for Colorado & send this bill to [President Trump’s] desk by the end of the year.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) celebrated the hemp provisions as well.

As did Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Lawmakers are hoping to put the Farm Bill to a full House and Senate vote and deliver the legislation to the president this week. McConnell said on Tuesday that members of Congress should be prepared to work through the holiday break to make sure this and other bills, including criminal justice reform and legislation to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2019, are seen all the way through.

Next House Agriculture Committee Chair Might Grow Hemp On His Farm

Via YouTube/Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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