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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.

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GOP Senator Reveals What Trump Said About Jeff Sessions’s Anti-Marijuana Moves

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President Donald Trump immediately rebuked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the day that he rescinded Justice Department guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) revealed during an interview on the Cannabis Economy podcast earlier this month.

Following a meeting on trade and tariffs in the Oval Office, Gardner pulled Trump aside to express his opposition to the rescission of the Obama-era cannabis document known as the Cole Memo. But before he could finish his sentence, the president interrupted to say “we need undo this” and “[Sessions] needs to stop this.”

“It was very clear to me at that point that there was a disagreement between the president and the attorney general on this,” Gardner said. Trump also said, “I don’t like this, this isn’t something I support,” but that it was too late to reverse the decision.

“This sounds like something my grandpa said in the 1950s,” was an exact phrase the president used, per Gardner’s recollection.

“At that point I realized that there was an ally in the president on this.”

In response to Sessions’s decision, Gardner started blocking Justice Department nominees until he received assurances that the federal government would not take enforcement action against legal cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state laws. That blockage prompted a subsequent phone call with the president, who said there was one nominee in particular he wanted to confirm.

Listen to Gardner’s interview with the Cannabis Economy podcast below:

Gardner explained why he was holding nominees, to which Trump replied, “OK, you’ve got my commitment to support the bill, you’ve got my commitment to support a solution on this,” referring to bipartisan legislation Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from enforcement under the Controlled Substance Act.

Trump later told reporters that he “really” supports the legislation, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act.

During his conversation with the president, Gardner cautioned that states like Colorado would be put in jeopardy if the Justice Department followed through on Sessions’s threats. But Trump said, “we’re not going to do that, it doesn’t mean anything.”

“That was the commitment from the president not only on showing that he’s going to disagree with Jeff Sessions, but actually saying, ‘don’t worry about what he’s done because it won’t impact Colorado,’ and then moving forward down for a solution,” Gardner said.

Sessions resigned from his position at the president’s request in November, and the Senate confirmed his replacement, William Barr earlier this month. Barr was repeatedly pressed about how he would approach federal cannabis policy during his confirmation hearing and in followup questions, and he made consistent pledges not to use Justice Department resources to “go after” state-legal marijuana businesses.

He did, however, encourage Congress to resolve conflicting federal and state cannabis laws through legislative action.

Trump Issues Signing Statement On Medical Marijuana Provision Of Funding Bill

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Five Governors Talk Marijuana And Hemp At Media Conference

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The governors of five states weighed in on marijuana and hemp during appearances at Politico’s ninth annual “State Solutions” conference on Friday.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said hemp should be regulated “just like any crop” and emphasized that he wants his state to continue to expand its legal hemp and marijuana economies. The pro-legalization governor, who pledged to make Colorado the nation’s leader in industrial hemp production during his State of the State address last month, also pulled out a business card printed on hemp paper during the event.

Then the conversation pivoted to broader federal cannabis policy. Polis said “there’s an existential threat to everything we’re doing in Colorado” because of the lack of formal protections against federal intervention in state marijuana laws.

“Obviously the counterbalance to that is the federal government—even if they somehow did make this more of an enforcement priority—don’t have the ability on the ground to prosecute so many people,” he said.

“I hope that they can either reinstate something like the Cole memorandum or, even better, that Congress can finally move forward with changing the laws and leaving it up to the states,” the governor said, referring to Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidance that then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year.

Polis also said that if the state got wind of pending federal enforcement, “it would be of great concern and we would bring that to the highest levels of the White House.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), whose constituents voted to legalize medical marijuana during November’s midterm election, was asked what he thought about allowing the use of medical cannabis to treat opioid addiction.

“I think everybody would like to have any kind of medicine that will help alleviate pain and suffering,” including opioid dependence, he said. But he said the federal government was at fault for failing to address cannabis rescheduling in order to enhance clinical research into the plant’s therapeutic benefits.

“We ought to change the law, allow it to be studied,” he said. “What are we afraid of?”

And South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) discussed the state’s possible legalization of industrial hemp. She said it was important to wait for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release “federal guidelines” on hemp production first and also to ensure that the state has the money and resources to regulate the crop.

The conversation comes after Noem urged the state Senate to postpone a scheduled hearing on an industrial hemp cultivation bill, a request the body ultimately agreed to earlier this week. The legislation passed the House in a 62-5 vote last week.

During the interview, Noem also expressed concerns generally about the lack of roadside drug tests to determine impaired driving from marijuana, and she said it’s important as governor to consider the public safety ramifications” of an industrial hemp market.

The second session of the conference featured Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D), who also spoke about cannabis.

Brown touted the legal cannabis industry and said it has stimulated job growth in Oregon, where she said about 20,000 people work for marijuana and hemp businesses. It should be a “top priority” for Congress to ensure that the cannabis industry has access to banking services, she said.

The Connecticut governor reiterated his belief that the state will legalize marijuana and “do it right” during his interview.

Without a regulated cannabis system, the illicit market will continue to thrive and people are already “driving over the border” to Massachusetts, where adult use is legal, so “that train has left the station,” he said. A significant portion of the Connecticut House has already signed onto an adult use legalization bill

But the existing system breeds “disrespect for the law,” Lamont added. What’s more, cannabis enforcement disproportionately targets communities of color, which is part of the reason that he considers legalization a “criminal justice issue.”

Legalization legislation should also involve expunging the records of individuals with prior cannabis convictions, he said.

Lamont revealed that he’s talked to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), who has recently and reluctantly embraced reform in response to neighboring states moving to legalize, and that the two agreed to work together to create effective marijuana systems in their respective states.

This story was updated to add comments from Brown and Lamont.

Two More Governors Call For Marijuana Legalization During Budget Speeches

Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

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Florida Senator Wants To Let Voters Decide On Marijuana Legalization

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A joint resolution introduced in the Florida Senate on Thursday would add a new section to the Florida Constitution to establish the right “to possess, use and cultivate cannabis.”

“This right may not be infringed, except that the transfer of cannabis by purchase or sale may be regulated by law as necessary to ensure public health and safety,” reads the measure, which would apply to adults over 21 years of age.

If approved by lawmakers, the question would go before voters in the 2020 general election.

The resolution, introduced by Sen. Randolph Bracy (D) of Orlando, comes as Florida lawmakers weigh other bills that would expand the allowable forms of medical marijuana in the state.

“I think if we just go straight to the people and ask them, ‘is this something that you want,’ it puts the onus back on us to regulate it,” Bracy told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “I think it’s such a controversial issue that the legislature is not in a position to agree on how it should be regulated. The best way to do it is to go through the people and then it will come back to us to figure out how to regulate it.”

“I’ve always thought the people are more progressive on this issue than the legislature is and I believe they are ready for legalization of marijuana. Whenever I hear from folks, it’s always a resounding ‘yes.’”

Under regulations instituted after voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016, patients are prohibited from smoking the drug. But new Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has called on lawmakers to change that, threatening to drop the state’s appeal of a lawsuit seeking to over turn the ban if the legislature doesn’t act by mid-March.

While a House bill would prohibit the smoking of medical marijuana by those under 18, another bill in the Senate allows patients under 18 to smoke only if two doctors agree it to be the best method.

The two proposals are expected to receive floor votes in their respective chambers within the next few weeks.

“From the House perspective, the biggest sticking point is children,” State Rep. Ray Rodrigues told Florida Politics. “We don’t believe children should be smoking medical marijuana…but we’re having conversations.”

The 2016 ballot measure added language in the state constitution allowing the use of medical cannabis by those with cancer, AIDS/HIV, epilepsy or other conditions as determined by their doctor. Two years earlier, a similar measure got majority support from voters but fell short of the 60 percent threshold required to pass.

If Bracy’s full legalization amendment advances to the ballot, it appears to have a good chance of passing. A poll last year found that Florida registered voters support “legalizing and regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, limiting its sale to residents 21 years of age or older” by a margin of 62 percent to 35 percent.

Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Key New Hampshire House Committee

This story has been updated to add comment from Bracy.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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