Hemp industry stakeholders are celebrating the introduction of a House of Representatives funding bill that would extend a 2014 pilot program for the crop until 2021.
While the 2018 Farm Bill more broadly legalized hemp, it required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop regulations for the market—and many farmers and processors have expressed concern about certain proposed rules. Industry groups, lawmakers and producers have been asking USDA to extend the earlier, 2014 Farm Bill pilot program, which they consider to be more flexible.
That program is set to expire on October 31. But if the new continuing resolution to keep the government funded and avoid a shutdown is approved, it would stay in effect until at least September 2021, also pushing back the implementation of USDA’s interim final rule on hemp and its derivatives.
Here’s the text of the hemp provision in the new funding bill:
“SEC. 122. Section 7605(b) of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (7 U.S.C. 5940 note; Public Law 115–334) is amended by striking ‘the date that is 1 year after the date on which the Secretary establishes a plan under section 297C of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946’ and inserting ‘September 30, 2021.'”
Stakeholders would then have more time to push USDA to adopt changes before it finalizes its hemp rules under the 2018 bill. They’ve said that testing and disposal requirements, as well as limitations on THC content, are particularly concerning provisions that threaten to inhibit the industry’s growth.
“We are very excited to see this language added into the House’s continuing resolution, and we will be enlisting our grassroots army behind an advocacy campaign to urge the Senate to concur,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel at the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment. “This is a critical step to ensure full flexibility for hemp farmers as the USDA irons out its final rule during these difficult economic circumstances.”
Earlier this month, USDA reopened a public comment period for 30 days on its interim final rule (IFR) for the crop, soliciting public input on a series of specific provisions. The federal Small Business Administration recently asked the agency to extend that window by another 30 days.
“We see this as a positive development for hemp farmers across the country,” Patrick Atagi, board chairman of the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC), said in a press release. “The hemp industry isn’t any different from other facets of our economy that have been adversely affected by COVID. We’ve continued to tell Congress that a global pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for states to meet and develop plans to be submitted to the USDA for approval before the expiration of the pilot program.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said the new legislation “provides USDA and the states another year to work together on any challenges with the USDA’s proposed regulations.”
“Colorado is proud to be a national leader in the hemp industry and the continuation of this program will help support our local farmers and ranchers who are the foundation of this industry in our state,” he said. “I welcome the extension of the 2014 Farm Bill in the Continuing Resolution because it provides Colorado with additional time to engage stakeholders and federal agencies before finalizing our State’s hemp plan with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
It remains to be seen whether the Senate will introduce identical language. Senate Republicans and the White House have already voiced general opposition to the proposed continuing resolution in general, without discussing the specific hemp provision. That said, a coalition of hemp associations wrote to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) last week, imploring him to advocate for an extension of the 2014 pilot program and also delay implementation of USDA’s IFR.
“As you are aware, stakeholders throughout Colorado (and nationwide), including both government and industry, continue to voice their numerous concerns related to several untenable standards contained in the USDA IFR,” the letter, led by led by Vicente Sederberg LLP and Hoban Law Group, states.
“To this end, Colorado is one of a number of states which has delayed the promulgation of a state plan in accordance with the 2018 Farm Bill, to allow Colorado’s hemp industry to remain in operation in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill for at least the 2020 season, while USDA and its sister agencies are afforded the opportunity to meaningfully address the industry’s stated concerns,” it continues.
The letter was also signed by Buscher Law, Colorado Hemp Industries Association, National Cannabis Industry Association, Hemp Industries Association and Functional Remedies, LLC.
“I think it’s an important protection for the hemp industry to allow them to operate under a state regulated program, while there’s more time to address the problematic provisions under the federal IFR,” Shawn Hauser of Vicente Sederberg LLP told Marijuana Moment. “Especially given the difficulty and transitioning operations with the challenges of COVID and the time and work that needs to be done to address the federal rules, it’s important that these state programs be able to continue, and this is going to allow the hemp industry to succeed.”
Last month Gardner called on USDA to delay the implementation of the proposed hemp rules, citing concerns about certain restrictive policies that stakeholders oppose.
While Senate leadership might not be amenable to the House proposal overall, it’s still the case the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a strong advocate for hemp and has made much of his alliance with the industry throughout his reelection campaign.
Pressure is on to get a continuing resolution approved, as the deadline to keep the government funded is in less than 10 days, at the end of this month.
For USDA’s part, it does seem to be taking seriously the feedback it’s received and may be willing to make certain accommodations on these particular policies. At the same time, it’s been in the process of approving hemp regulatory proposals—or requesting resubmissions with edits—from states that are moving ahead despite ongoing concerns about the 2018 provisions.
Certain states like North Carolina and Rhode Island have notified USDA that they intend to continue operating under the 2014 pilot program.
In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, expressing concern that hemp testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last month wrote to Perdue, similarly asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allow states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill hemp pilot program in the meantime.
State agriculture departments and a NIHC made a similar request to both Congress and USDA last month.
Perdue has said on several occasions that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) influenced certain rules, adding that the narcotics agency wasn’t pleased with the overall legalization of hemp.
Separately, USDA announced last week that it is expanding its coronavirus relief program for farmers—and this time around, hemp cultivators are eligible for benefits.
Earlier this month, DEA released proposed rules to comply with USDA’s hemp rules. However, some industry players suspect that they’re really setting the stage to crack down on the newly legal market.
Read the letter the hemp groups sent to Gardner below:
This story was updated to include comment from Polis.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.
The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.
Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.
The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.
The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.
“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.
The Virginia Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight is meeting now. You can find the agenda and links to livestream and to provide public comment at https://t.co/f1wsPn7SV7
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) October 14, 2021
Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.
They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.
DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.
In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.
DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.
It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.
LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.
Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.
Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:
For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:
And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:
DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.
“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.
“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”
Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:
|All other tetrahydrocannabinol||1,000||2,000|
A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.
It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.
Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.
Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.
But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.
Disappointed but not surprised U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear our case. We’re pursuing our claims in federal court. As that litigation proceeds, Biden administration will have to take a position, which it avoided by waiving its right to respond to our Supreme Court petition.
— Safehouse (@SafehousePhilly) October 13, 2021
“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”
That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.
“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.