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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

Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

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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Arizona Legal Marijuana Campaign Asks Supreme Court To Allow Electronic Signatures Amid Coronavirus

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Several campaigns to put initiatives on Arizona’s November ballot—including one to legalize marijuana—are asking the state Supreme Court to allow electronic signature gathering amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has made in-person ballot petitioning all but impossible.

Smart and Safe Arizona, the group behind the cannabis measure, along with three other campaigns, filed a petition with the court on Thursday, requesting that it direct the secretary of state to let them digitally collect signatures. They stressed that the infrastructure already exists, as residents are able to use a system called E-Qual to sign ballot petitions for individual candidates running for office.

While the marijuana campaign has already gathered more than 320,000 signatures, which is well over the required 237,645 signatures for statutory proposals, they have yet to be verified and activists would like to continue collection efforts to ensure that they qualify for the ballot.

In the filing, the groups argued that limiting the E-Qual system to office seekers is unconstitutional. However, state law stipulates that it can only be used for that purpose, so it remains to be seen whether court action will produce the intended result. There was a bill filed last year to expand its utility to allow digital signature gathering for initiatives, but it has not advanced in the legislature.

“Legal access to E-Qual for these citizen initiatives is the right thing for public health and democracy,” attorneys representing the groups said in a statement. “Following Governor Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order issued Monday and current CDC recommendations, gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures on paper, at people’s homes, or in public spaces, is impossible to do safely and responsibly during this pandemic. E-Qual is a very reasonable remedy.”

The legalization petition would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. People could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program

Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.

The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.

“The Committees have explored potential alternatives, such as mailing petitions to interested persons to circulate within their families,” Smart and Safe Arizona Campaign Manager Stacy Pearson said in a declaration filed with the court. “This, however, is expensive, inefficient, and has no realistic likelihood of permitting the Committees’ to gather large numbers of valid petition signatures.”

The legalization group was joined by campaigns to limit school vouchers, provide sentencing reform and increase taxes on the wealthy to fund public education in the petition. Separately, two other campaigns—to enact voting reform and end surprise hospital billings—filed a similar lawsuit in a federal court on Thursday.

Smart and Safe Arizona is not the only drug policy reform campaign to request electronic signature gathering since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Activists in California released a video last month asking officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

Others have generally shut down campaign activities in light of the pandemic, which has resulted in shutter businesses and shelter-in-place orders across the country.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Idaho Activists Suspend Campaign To Legalize Medical Marijuana Due To Coronavirus

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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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