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Hemp Advocates Secure Major Win In New House Government Funding Measure

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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: 

Colorado Hemp Stakeholders … by Marijuana Moment

This story was updated to include comment from Polis.

Texas Ban On Smokable Hemp Lifted Until 2021, Judge Rules

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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

Top Pennsylvania Official Restores Marijuana Flag After GOP Lawmakers Allegedly Got It Removed

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Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D) marijuana and LGBTQ flags are waving again at his Capitol office after state officials removed them Monday night, allegedly at the behest of certain GOP lawmakers who feel strongly about the activist decor.

The day after their removal, the lieutenant governor proudly announced on Twitter that he’d restored the flags—one rainbow-themed and the other displaying cannabis leaves.

“I really can’t emphasize this enough, my issue isn’t with the individuals that came to take them down. They’re kind of caught in the middle of it so it’s not them,” Fetterman told Marijuana Moment. “But the Pennsylvania GOP exerted enough pressure and made enough drama so they felt that they needed to do something and they took them down. When I realized that, I just put them back up.”

The flags have been an unusual source of controversy for some members of the legislature. In November, Republican lawmakers passed budget legislation that included a provision targeting his cannabis-themed office decor, making it so only the American flag, the Pennsylvania flag and those honoring missing soldiers could be displayed at the Capitol building.

“There’s one great way to get them down for good and we can end this,” the lieutenant governor said. And that’s by enacting legislative reform.

“It shouldn’t have to be this way. These are not controversial things. These are very fundamentally American things. It’s freedom-related. It’s individuality-related. It’s jobs. It’s revenue,” he said. “These are not controversial, but these flags are. For the party that thinks it’s A-OK to talk about how an election that was secure was rigged, they sure have a real thin skin when it comes to free speech.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of General Services confirmed to Marijuana Moment that it was tasked with removing the flags and did so “in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.” Asked whether lawmakers from the legislature’s Republican majority influenced the recent action, the representative repeated: “All I can say is the Department of General Services removed the flag in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of the Senate majority leader and House speaker for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.

Defying the flag order is par for the course for Fetterman, a longtime marijuana reform advocate who is weighing a run for the U.S. Senate. His enthusiastic embrace of the issue has often put him in the spotlight, and he said he’d take that advocacy to Congress if he ultimately decides to enter the race and is elected.

“I’m the only person that’s actually called out my own party for its failure to embrace it when it is appropriate,” he said, referring to his repeated criticism of the Democratic National Committee’s rejection of a pro-legalization platform. “There has never been—or would ever be—a more committed advocate to ending this awful superstition over a plant for the United States.”

On his campaign website, the lieutenant governor touts his role in leading a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on the policy change. He noted that, following his efforts, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) “announced his support for legalization for the first time.”

It remains to be seen when legalization will happen in Pennsylvania, however. Despite Fetterman and Wolf’s support for legalization and the pressure they’re applying on lawmakers, convincing Republican legislative leaders to go along with the plan remains a challenge.

Fetterman previously told Marijuana Moment that pursuing reform through the governor’s budget request is a possibility. But in the meantime the administration is exploring the constitutionality of issuing “wholesale pardons for certain marijuana convictions and charges.”

Since adopting a pro-legalization position in 2019, Wolf has repeatedly called on the legislature to enact the policy change. He’s stressed that stressed that marijuana reform could generate tax revenue to support the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that ending criminalization is necessary for social justice.

In September, he took a dig at the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on reform in the previous session. And in August, he suggested that the state itself could potentially control marijuana sales rather than just license private retailers as other legalized jurisdictions have done.

Fetterman previously said that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—where voters approved a legalization referendum in November—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.

He also hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from the lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.

Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the policy change, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top New York Official Responds To Marijuana Advocates’ Criticism Of Governor’s Legalization Plan

Photo courtesy of Twitter/John Fetterman.

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Hawaii Could Legalize Psychedelic Mushroom Therapy Under New Senate Bill

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Hawaii could legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapy under a newly filed bill in the state legislature.

The measure, if approved, would direct the state Department of Health to “establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn,” two psychoactive substances produced by certain fungi.

It would also remove the two compounds from the state’s list of Schedule I controlled substances and create a seven-person psilocybin review panel to assess the impacts of the policy change.

Few other specifics are provided in the bill, SB 738, introduced in the state Senate on Friday. It doesn’t specify who would qualify for the therapy, for example, or how precisely the drugs—which remain federally illegal—would be administered. The legislation simply says the Department of Health “shall adopt rules” in accordance with state law.

The new legislation comes less than a year after Hawaii lawmakers introduced bills to begin studying the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms with the goal of eventually legalizing them, though those measures did not advance.

Entheogens—including other substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine—have emerged as a promising treatment for severe depression, anxiety and other conditions, although research remains ongoing.

In November, voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy that the state is now in the process of implementing.

The new Hawaii bill was introduced by Sens. Stanley Chang, Laura Clint Acasio, Les Ihara Jr. and Maile Shimabukuro, all Democrats. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, according to the state legislature’s website.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Hawaii proposal is one of a growing number of broader reform bills to have been introduced across the country this year as the debate on drug policy moves beyond marijuana. A measure introduced in New York earlier this month would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance, instead imposing a $50 fine. Similar measures are expected to be introduced in California and Washington State this year.

A Florida lawmaker recently announced plans to introduce legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state.

Lawmakers in New Jersey last month sent a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy (D) that would reduce criminal charges for the possession of psilocybin, but so far Murphy hasn’t signed the measure.

Voters, meanwhile, have been broadly supportive of drug reform measures in recent years. In addition to the psilocybin. measure, Oregon voters in November also approved an initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs. Washington, D.C. voters overwhelmingly enacted a proposal to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics.

Despite the growing discussion of drug reform at statehouses across the country, some high-profile advocates are setting their sights on the 2022 election. Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner, a key financial backer of successful reform efforts in Oregon, told Marijuana Moment last month that he’s expecting both Washington state and Colorado voters will see decriminalization or psilocybin therapy on their 2022 ballots.

Meanwhile, a new advocacy group is pushing Congress to allocate $100 million to support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

New Psychedelics Reform Group Sets Sights On Congress As Movement Builds

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman

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Minnesota Governor Urges Lawmakers To Pursue Marijuana Legalization Amid Budget Talks

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The governor of Minnesota on Tuesday implored the legislature to look into legalizing marijuana as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice.

During a briefing focused on his budget proposal for the 2022-23 biennium, Gov. Tim Walz (D) was asked whether he is open to allowing sports betting in the state to generate tax revenue. He replied he wasn’t closing the door on that proposal, but said he is more interested in seeing lawmakers “take a look at recreational cannabis.”

Not only would tax revenue from adult-use marijuana “dwarf” those collected through sports betting, he said, but legalization would also help address “the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws.”

Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization below: 

“I will say this, I will certainly leave open that possibility. Our neighboring states have done both of those things,” Walz said of legalizing sports gambling and cannabis. “I obviously recognize that that’s not a 100 percent slam dunk for people, and they realize that there’s cost associated with both. But my message would be is, I don’t think this is the time for me to say I’m shutting the door on anything.”

Walz did not include a request to legalize through his budget, however, as governors in some other states have.

The Minnesota governor did say in 2019, however, that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Earlier this month, the House majority leader said he would again introduce a bill to legalize marijuana in the new session. And if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the reform, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said this month that “Senate Republicans remain the biggest obstacle to progress on this issue.”

“Minnesota’s current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good,” she told The Center Square. “By creating a regulatory framework we can address the harms caused by cannabis and establish a more sensible set of laws to improve our health care and criminal justice systems and ensure better outcomes for communities,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), for his part, said that while he would be “open to expanding medical use or hearing criminal justice reforms,” he doesn’t “believe fully legalized marijuana is right for the state.”

“Other states that have legalized marijuana are having issues with public safety,” he argued, “and we are concerned that we haven’t fully seen how this works with employment issues, education outcomes and mental health.”

Last month, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Another factor that might add pressure on lawmakers to enact the reform is the November vote in neighboring South Dakota to legalize adult-use cannabis.

Also next door, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is pushing lawmakers to enact marijuana reform and recently said that he is considering putting legalization in his upcoming budget request.

New Mexico Governor Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In State Of The State Address

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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