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.
.@SenateMajLdr has been an effective leader in our farming communities helping Kentucky to become a leader in hemp production. And with the passage of the Farm Bill, hemp will become legalized nationwide! https://t.co/hlYsE9kqgn
— Kentucky GOP (@KYGOP) June 12, 2018
“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.”
Kentucky's farmers and processors are making innovative CBD products available to consumers. We recorded millions of dollars in sales revenues last year. The Grassley Amendment must be STOPPED in its tracks. #KyAg365 (2/3)
— Commissioner Quarles (@KYAgCommish) June 13, 2018
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.
I’d like to thank the Chairman & @SenStabenow for working w/ me to include my #HempFarmingAct in the bill. It builds on the success of the pilot program I championed in the 2014 farm bill by removing federal roadblocks to industrial hemp.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) June 13, 2018
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.”
I’m thrilled the bipartisan #HempFarmingAct passed the #SenateAg committee today. This marks a huge step toward allowing consumers to buy products made in America with hemp grown in America. #FarmBill18 https://t.co/6I6np0Dei3
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) June 13, 2018
My bipartisan #HempFarmingAct w/ @SenateMajLdr, @SenJeffMerkley and @RandPaul 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.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) June 13, 2018
“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.
More State Political Parties Endorse Marijuana Legalization
Delegates at Democratic party conventions in two separate states voted to add marijuana legalization planks to their official platforms this weekend.
In Texas, Democrats embraced a policy to “legalize possession and use of marijuana and its derivatives and to regulate its use, production and sale as is successfully done in Colorado, Washington and other States.” Delegates also called on the immediate legalization of medical marijuana, the removal of cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and the release of individuals convicted of marijuana possession, as well as the expungement of records for individuals convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors.
A separate plank adopted by the party embraces the “legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes.”
The language of the planks is similar to the Texas Democratic Party’s current platform, which also called for marijuana decriminalization and the regulation of the “use, cultivation, production, and sale [of cannabis] as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”
The move comes about a week after the state’s Republican party delegates approved platform planks to decriminalize cannabis, expand the state’s medical marijuana program, reschedule marijuana under federal law and push forward with hemp reform.
In New Hampshire, Democratic delegates also voted in favor of adding a platform plank to legalize cannabis. “We believe that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated,” the Granite State Dems’ new plank reads. Delegates at the convention also approved a resolution supporting the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
The passage of the pro-legalization plank in New Hampshire reflects a significant policy evolution—but the path to its approval wasn’t necessarily smooth. There was debate among party officials about the initial language of the plank, which said the state should “treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol.” The plank was changed to satisfy some members who took issue with the reference to alcohol, The Concord Monitor reported. Even so, not all members were on board with the plank, with House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff arguing that the party should wait until a legislative commission studying the impact of legalization in the state submits its report in November.
That the party’s delegates went ahead and adopted the legal marijuana endorsement is “an encouraging development that bodes very well for the future of cannabis policy in New Hampshire,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “After several years of modest, incremental reforms being obstructed by previous Democratic Governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, it’s great to see that the party, and both of its gubernatorial candidates, are now embracing legalization and regulation.”
New Hampshire’s Republican party has not taken up legalization as a platform plank.
The Texas and New Hampshire Dems joined the ranks of several others that approved similar platform positions.
In May, the Democratic Party of New York endorsed a resolution supporting “the legalization of marijuana which should be regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.” Connecticut’s Democratic party also adopted a platform plank this year stating that “[t]he time for legalization of Marijuana has come.”
“Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids.”
And from California to Wisconsin, Democratic party delegates across the country officially backed marijuana legalization in 2016—and numerous others threw their support behind more modest cannabis reform policies such as decriminalization. Iowa’s Democratic party went even further, calling for the legalization of all drugs.
That same year, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) approved the first-ever major party platform to include a plank embracing a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” and the rescheduling of cannabis under federal law.
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”
The growing support for legalization among Democratic state parties appears to reflect a similar trend in public opinion toward cannabis reform nationally. A recent poll found that a record 68 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. That includes a majority of Republicans. While federal lawmakers have generally been slower to adopt pro-legalization stances, a number of bipartisan bills have also been introduced in recent months that aim to reform the country’s cannabis laws.
James Comey Weighs In On Marijuana Legalization
Former FBI Director James Comey, at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, has been asked many times what he thinks about the rule of law and related matters during the course of a publicity tour for his new book.
On Friday, he was asked to share his thoughts about marijuana legalization.
“The experiment is underway in the United States and I think the jury is still out on it,” Comey said.
“What I like about what’s going on in the U.S. is we call the states the laboratories of democracy, and allow the people in the states to experiment — experiment is probably the wrong word in this context — but to make choices, to try and figure out the best way not to overcriminalize behavior that people want to engage in, but also not to reward behavior that might hurt especially young people.”
While the former top federal cop indicated he supports letting states implement cannabis policies that are in conflict with U.S. laws, he’s not yet ready to personally endorse legalization.
“I’d like to see how it goes and what the natural break on it is. Does it really lead down a slippery slope to other drugs?” he said in the interview with LBC in the UK. “And there’s emerging science about the the dangers to the brain of smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana is not medicine, and so I honestly don’t know.”
“I think it’s worth experimenting with relaxation, talking about it, but monitoring it very closely.”
See Comey’s marijuana comments, roughly 18:50 into the clip below:
In 2014, as FBI director, Comey made headlines by suggesting that he wanted to relax the bureau’s employment policies with respect to drug use.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
He walked the comments back days later in response to questioning from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who now serves as U.S. attorney general.
“I was trying to be both serious and funny,” Comey said in response to the “disappointed” senator.
Photo courtesy of FBI.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Moves Forward In U.S. Territory
About a week after a U.S. territory hit a snag on the road to full marijuana legalization, a committee made several revisions to the bill that are expected to clear the path to passage.
Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) seemed set to put a legalization bill to a full House of Representatives vote on June 12, but the bill was unexpectedly sent back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO).
That same committee previously unanimously approved the legislation in May. It also passed in the territory’s full Senate that month.
Upon referral, the committee made a number of revisions, including the removal of licensing fees for statutory reasons and the addition of a policy that bans regulatory commissioners from participating in the program if they’ve been convicted of a crime within the last 15 years, legalization advocate Gerry Palacios of Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment. Because two sections regarding cannabis use and sales for individuals under 21 contradicted each other, one was struck from the legislation.
One question still needs to be resolved by lawmakers: the JGO recommended a recess until July 2 in order to clear up whether fines levied against individuals who violate the law would be counted as “revenue generators.” If the commission determines that these fines are not a part of the revenue stream, the fines provision will remain in the bill. (Revenue generation legislation is supposed to originate in the House — and not the Senate, where the legalization bill was first filed.)
Another change the committee made to the bill on Thursday would speed up the timeline for implementing legalization. The JGO amended the legislation to require that the CNMI Cannabis Commission would be created within 30 days of the passage of the bill instead of 90 days.
“These changes were made for clarification and constitutional purposes for speedy passage of the bill,” Palacios said. “The goal is to keep the intent and integrity of the bill intact while at the same time addressing issues on interpretation of its language.”
“Once the JGO convenes on July 2 after clarification on [the] ‘fines’ issue, they will move to adopt and push for full House review.”
So that’s where the state of cannabis legalization in the U.S. jurisdiction stands. Advocates tell Marijuana Moment that the Senate is likely to OK the changes recommended by the committee, but it’s unclear when a full House vote will take place at this point. If the bill ultimately passes, CNMI will be the first U.S. territory to fully legalize without a preexisting medical cannabis system in place.
“The Senate will have no problem with these changes as long as the bill’s integrity and intent are kept.”
That said, the territory’s governor, Ralph Torres, expressed concerns earlier this month about the potential impact of legalization on public health and crime.
“In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime?,” he asked, according to Marianas Variety. “If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public safety issues.”
Here’s what the bill would accomplish
- Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, grow and consume cannabis.
- CNMI would establish a regulatory system to produce, process and manage retail sales of marijuana.
- Tax revenue from marijuana sales would go toward funding the regulatory system and other government services.