The most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill just filed a bill to radically change federal laws that currently make cannabis illegal for all purposes.
While new legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would not legalize marijuana for recreational or medical use, it would remove non-psychoactive cannabis varieties known as hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.
It's time the federal gov changes the way it looks at #hemp, which is why Senator @RonWyden and I, along with @SenJeffMerkley, are introducing legislation that will modernize federal law in this area & empower American farmers to explore this promising new market.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) April 12, 2018
“We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky’s past,” McConnell said last month when first announcing the new bill, which he formally introduced on Thursday with a bipartisan group of cosponsors.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) April 12, 2018
In addition to legalizing hemp under federal law, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would remove restrictions on banking access, water rights and other roadblocks that farmers and processors currently face.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture would receive oversight plans from states, and then state departments of agriculture would regulate local production.
The bill would also make USDA research funding available to farmers, and hemp plants would be eligible for crop insurance.
McConnell has already successfully attached language to broader legislation, such as the 2014 Farm Bill and annual spending packages, that shields state industrial hemp research programs from federal interference.
But confusion over what counts as research as well as issues related to the interstate transportation of hemp seeds has caused confusion as the Drug Enforcement Administration has in some cases sought to enforce federal laws that do not distinguish between hemp and marijuana.
While hemp products such as food, clothing and other consumer goods are legal to sell in the U.S., cultivation of the plant is banned outside of the limited exemption for state research programs, so manufacturers must in many cases import the raw materials from other countries that do no prohibit hemp farming.
“As the tobacco industry has changed, some farmers in states like Kentucky have been searching for a new crop that can support their families and grow our agricultural economy,” McConnell said in a Senate floor speech about the new bill on Thursday. “And many believe they’ve found such a product: industrial hemp. But the federal government has stood in the way. Mr. President, it’s time to change that.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) joined McConnell on the floor to champion the new bill.
“It is really a milestone to have the majority leader of the Senate working with a bipartisan group of us to lift a restriction that is anti-farmer, certainly anti-consumer and anti-common sense,” he said. “The only thing you’re going to accomplish by smoking hemp is wasting your breath, wasting your time and wasting lighter fluid.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), another cosponsor of the bill, said, “It’s past time that we move beyond these outdated and frustrating restrictions on hemp farming in the United States. If we’re selling hemp products in the United States, we should be growing hemp in the United States – it’s good for jobs, good for our communities, and it’s just common sense.”
McConnell revealed that he will soon be discussing hemp issues with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime cannabis law reform opponent.
The majority leader was an original cosponsor of a standalone industrial hemp bill during the 114th Congress, but it did not receive a hearing or a vote. Last year he signed onto a nonbinding resolution approved by the Senate in recognition of Hemp History week.
“Industrial hemp holds great potential to bolster the agricultural economy of the United States,” that measure declared.
Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said in a statement that the new bill “will finally remove the federal roadblocks holding back the industry and help to create jobs in farming and manufacturing.”
“The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 is landmark legislation that will be remembered as the key element which finally allowed the hemp industry to flourish in the U.S.,” he added.
See the full text of McConnell’s new hemp bill below:
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Hemp Legalization Is Officially Headed to President Trump’s Desk For Signature
The 2018 Farm Bill, which would legalize industrial hemp, is officially headed to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday, one day after the Senate approved it.
It’s been decades since the ban on hemp was imposed—a byproduct of the federal government’s war on marijuana and other drugs. The ban, it seems, will be lifted in a matter of days.
The House passed the bill, 369-47.
The votes come after months of debate over other aspects of the wide-ranging agriculture bill. But the hemp legalization provision, shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has received bipartisan support at every step of the legislative process.
Hemp legalization made it through a conference committee where the Senate and House Agriculture Committees reconciled their respective versions of the bill. McConnell marked the occasion this week by signing the conference report with a hemp pen, which he said on Wednesday that the president was free to use to sign the bill into law.
The hemp provision would allow U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell the crop. The Justice Department would no longer have jurisdiction over hemp under the legislation; rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate it.
One element of the hemp language created tension between lawmakers and advocates. The original Senate-passed bill prohibited people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry, but a compromise was reached last week that limited that ban in the final version to 10 years after the last offense.
House Democrats in the Agriculture Committee listed hemp legalization as one of several reasons they were calling for a “yes” vote on the legislation.
The farm bill conference report legalizes industrial hemp. pic.twitter.com/2u5xxtKwaS
— House Agriculture Committee Democrats (@HouseAgDems) December 12, 2018
According to VoteHemp, if the president signs the bill before the year’s end, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.
Marijuana Industry Border Issues Would Be Solved Under New Congressional Bill
Marijuana can really mess up border and immigration issues for people who partake in consumption or participate in the industry, but that would change if a new bill being introduced in Congress this week is enacted.
Under current U.S. laws, people who admit to past cannabis use or who work for or invest in marijuana businesses can be barred from visiting the country under certain circumstances. And marijuana consumption, even if it is legal under state law, can lead to an immigrant being deported.
The new legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections For Legal Entry Act, would provide exceptions for conduct that “was lawful in the State, Indian Tribe, or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or that was “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” according to a draft obtained by Marijuana Moment.
The bill, known as the MAPLE Act for short—surely a nod to the leaf on Canada’s flag—is being filed on Wednesday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
U.S. border policies on entry by marijuana industry participants were slightly loosened just ahead of the launch of Canada’s legal marijuana market in October to clarify that people working for cannabis businesses are generally admissible to the U.S., with the caveat that “if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”
And that’s a key exception. Several Canadians traveling to a cannabis industry conference in Las Vegas last month were detained for hours, with one investor being given a lifetime ban from visiting the U.S.
While there is almost certainly not enough time for Blumenauer’s proposal to be considered and voted on by the end of the year, its language could easily be adopted into new legislation after the 116th Congress is seated in January.
In October, the congressman laid out a plan for a step-by-step approach to federally legalizing marijuana in 2019 in a memo to fellow House Democrats.
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new MAPLE Act below:
Chicago Mayor Wants Legal Marijuana Revenue To Fund Pensions
Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales should be earmarked to fund pension programs, the mayor of Chicago said on Wednesday.
“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said in a speech to the City Council. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of the workers who depend on them.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil.