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.
Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment
One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.
Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.
“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”
“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”
“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”
“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) July 16, 2018
Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.
At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.
“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.
But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.
“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”
The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.
See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:
— AM to DM by BuzzFeed News (@AM2DM) July 16, 2018
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.
County Officials From Across The U.S. Push Feds To Reform Marijuana Laws
An organization representing the 3,069 county governments across the U.S. is calling on the federal government to allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.
“The federal government should largely be responsible for regulating and enforcing against illegal drug trafficking, while respecting states’ right to decriminalize cannabis under state law,” reads a new platform plank adopted on Monday by the National Association of Counties (NACo).
“NACo urges Congress to enact legislation that promotes the principles of federalism and local control of cannabis businesses with regard to medical and adult-use of cannabis under state law,” a related provision says. “Congress should allow and encourage state and local governments to enact and implement cannabis laws, regulations, and policies that appropriately control production, processing, sales, distribution and use, as well as promote public and consumer safety, should they choose to decriminalize and regulate cannabis under state law.”
The group is also calling on the federal government to make moves to expand banking access for marijuana businesses and broaden research on cannabis’s medical effects.
The county officials’ new stance is similar to resolutions adopted last month by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“The United States Conference of Mayors urges the White House, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to immediately remove cannabis from the schedule of the CSA to enable U.S. federal banking regulators to permanently authorize financial institutions to provide services to commercial cannabis businesses, and increase the safety of the public,” one of the mayoral group’s positions says.
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new NACo marijuana positions below:
Border Patrol Reflects On Feds’ Friendlier Historical Approach To Marijuana
Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana nationwide has stoked concerns that its citizens traveling across the U.S. border will risk temporary detention or even permanent visitation bans if they fess up having ever consumed cannabis, or even working in the industry.
Enforcement officials have told reporters that there’s no travel policy change in light of Canada’s end of prohibition, emphasizing that it remains illegal to bring cannabis across the border under federal law. Violating the policy “could potentially result in seizure, fines, and apprehension,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a recent statement.
But let’s take you back to a simpler time, courtesy of CBP.
“Did You Know… Marijuana Was Once a Legal Cross-Border Import?”
That’s the title of a 2015 blog post published by the federal agency—which seems to have gone mostly unnoticed until now—recalls how cannabis was historically recognized as a legal import by the government.
“One hundred years ago, the federal government was not overly concerned with marijuana, the common name for the Cannabis sativa L. plant,” the feds’ post reads.
Through the mid-1930s, the plant flew under the government’s radar, despite the fact that “several state governments and other countries had banned the drug.”
“The U.S. government hesitated, in part because therapeutic uses of Cannabis were still being explored and American industry profited from commercial applications of hemp fiber, seeds and oil.”
That all changed in the decades to come—first with the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which imposed taxes and regulations on cannabis imports, cultivation, distribution and possession, and then with full prohibition under the Nixon administration.
Up until that point, the Customs Agency Service (later rebranded as CBP) didn’t put too much stock in pot. Just before the Marihuana Tax Act passed, the agency described its cannabis policy here:
“Marihuana may be cultivated or grown wild in almost any locality. Inasmuch as this drug is so readily obtained in the United States, it is not believed to be the subject of much organized smuggling from other countries.”
It seems like pretty basic supply and demand, but federal prohibition changed the equation. Suddenly, marijuana wasn’t “so readily obtained” in the country—and even simple possession carried serious criminal penalties—so the legal supply dried up. In the absence of legal access, criminal organizations swooped in to meet the demand for marijuana in the United States.
“Today, however, marijuana trafficking is a major concern of CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration,” CBP wrote. “Well over 3 million pounds of ‘pot’ were confiscated at our borders in 2011, making an impact on this multibillion-dollar illegal enterprise.”
The more you know!
Photo courtesy of Gerald Nino, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.