House lawmakers approved several spending bills on Wednesday that touch on a wide range of cannabis-related policy issues, including immigration eligibility for people who use marijuana, benefits for military veterans who work in the industry and regulations on hemp and CBD.
It was a busy day for the House Appropriations Committee, where two of the spending bills that contain cannabis provisions were marked up by the full panel and another got a vote in a subcommittee.
This comes one day after the full committee approved legislation that includes language providing protections for banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses and notably excludes a prior rider that bans Washington, D.C. from using its tax dollars to allow adult-use cannabis sales. The committee also adopted a related report that urges federal agencies to reconsider policies that result in the firing of employees who use marijuana legally in accordance with state law.
Here’s a breakdown of the new cannabis provisions lawmakers will be considering on Wednesday:
In an spending bill that allocates fiscal year 2022 funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there’s a provision that would prevent its component agencies from denying any person immigration benefits or protections, or penalizing them in an application, simply because they’ve admitted to using cannabis or were convicted of a low-level marijuana offense.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a person who admits to using cannabis—even in compliance with state law—is morally unfit for citizenship. The agency clarified that position in a 2019 memo, adding that employment in a state-legal marijuana market is another factor that could impact a person’s immigration status.
Standalone legislation has been introduced this session to resolve the problem, but it has yet to be acted on. While this new component of the spending bill that was advanced by the Homeland Security Subcommittee Appropriations Subcommittee would help address the issue, it does not seem that it would specifically help immigrants who work in the marijuana market.
“SEC. 533. No Federal funds may be used by the Department of Homeland Security to deny any benefit, application for admission, or protection available to an individual under the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101 et. seq.) on the sole basis of any event, conduct, finding, admission, history of addiction or abuse, arrest, juvenile adjudication, or conviction related to cannabis possession, consumption, or use.”
The full Appropriations Committee also approved a bill that includes a report acknowledging that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has clarified that veterans are eligible for home loan benefits even if they work in a state-legal marijuana industry. However, it expresses disappointment that VA hasn’t taken further action to communicate this policy to lenders and borrowers.
The new report directs VA to improve that communication and report back to Congress on its progress within 180 days of the enactment of the legislation.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and other lawmakers have pressed VA on difficulties some veterans have faced in securing the benefit, with at least one constituent telling Clark that they were denied a home loan because of their work in the state-legal cannabis market. That prompted the congresswoman to circulate a sign-on letter and introduce an amendment to resolve the problem.
Clark’s amendment to address the problem was approved by the House as part of a previous defense spending bill—though leaders in the chamber agreed to scrap it after the Senate didn’t include it in its version of the legislation.
“Home Loan Income Verification.—The Committee understands that as directed by House Report 116–63, VA has clarified that nothing in VA statutes or regulations specifically prohibits a Veteran whose income is derived from state-legalized cannabis activities from obtaining a certificate of eligibility for VA home loan benefits. The Committee is disappointed with VA’s inaction on the directive included in House Report 116–445 and again directs the VA to improve communication with eligible lending institutions to reduce confusion among lenders and borrowers on this matter and to report to the Committee on progress made no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act.”
The report also notes “progress” that VA has made when it comes to marijuana research. However, advocates have been critical of the agency in this respect. For example, VA offered written testimony this month opposing a bill expand clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of cannabis for military veterans with PTSD and chronic pain.
“Cannabis Research.—The Committee notes that VA has made progress on cannabis research and continues to request updates on the status of this research, as described in House Report 116–63.”
“I hope that the VA will send this update on the study that the department said they would send to us promptly,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said during the committee markup. “States and localities, they’re already using cannabis for management of pain and other medical conditions, and so it’s really time for the federal government to catch up.”
Then, there are a host of provisions on hemp and its derivatives like CBD in another spending bill and attached report that covers funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In the report, lawmakers took issue with the 2018 Farm Bill’s 0.3 percent THC cap for lawful hemp products and directed USDA to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on a study of whether that threshold is scientifically backed.
“Hemp.—The Committee is concerned that the level of allowable THC content in hemp may be arbitrary and pose a burden on hemp producers that is not supported by science. The Committee directs USDA to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to study and report to Congress on whether there is scientific basis for the current limit of .3% THC in hemp and suggest alternative levels if necessary.”
Further, the panel identified an issue in the legislation that advocates have pushed back against that prohibits people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp market for 10 years post-release. The report emphasizes that this policy has a disproportionate impact on people of color who have been most impacted by the war on drugs.
To that end, USDA is directed to analyze those barriers to entry for disparately impacted communities and report back with recommendations on how to ensure that the industry is equitable.
“The 2018 Farm Bill included a provision that restricted participation in legalized hemp production of any individual convicted of a drug-related felony for 10 years after their date of conviction, unless they are part of a hemp pilot program authorized by the 2014 farm bill. This drug felony ban will disproportionately impact communities of color and create another barrier to entry in the hemp industry to populations targeted by past drug policies. The Committee directs USDA to identify barriers to entry for communities of color and provide recommendations on how to ensure communities of color have equal access and opportunity to participate in the hemp industry.”
The committee additionally flagged another problem that hemp industry stakeholders have raised concerning the hemp extraction process. While hemp is defined under federal statute as containing no more than 0.3 percent THC, those levels can temporarily increase when extracts are being processed, and businesses have expressed concern that they may be liable to enforcement action in that interim period because of a lapse in regulatory guidance. The report says that USDA must work with DEA to provide such direction.
“Hemp Extract Regulation.—The Committee is concerned about the inconsistencies in the regulation of the production of hemp by USDA and DEA. Congress vested primary regulatory authority in USDA and expects other regulatory actions to align with it. Congress intentionally expanded the definition of hemp to include derivatives, extracts and cannabinoids in an effort to avoid the criminalization of hemp processing. Committee understands that in-process hemp extract may temporarily exceed the delta-9 THC concentration of 0.3% before being packaged and sold as a finished product for consumption. Therefore the Committee directs USDA to coordinate directly with the DEA to present the industry with guidance and information on in-process extracted material.”
When it comes to hemp-derived CBD, there is still an absence of regulations for its inclusion in food items and as dietary supplements. FDA has regulatory authority, and the report says that the committee expects continued work to provide clarity and guidance on the issue.
A standalone bill has been introduced this Congress that would address the problem by exempting “hemp, hemp-derived cannabidiol, or a substance containing any other ingredient derived from hemp” from certain restrictions that have blocked the emergence of legal consumable hemp products while the FDA has slow-walked regulations.
“Cannabidiol Enforcement.—The Committee expects further progress on regulatory pathways for cannabis-derived products that contain cannabidiol.”
Some of the language in the bill itself has been included in past appropriations legislation such as a section that prohibits the use of funds to interfere in the implementation of state hemp programs.
It also calls for an extension of the 2014 pilot program, under which states follow different rules than exist under the 2018 Farm Bill’s broader legalization of the crop. It would end on January 1, 2023, rather than 2022. State agriculture departments and hemp industry advocates have fought for past extensions of the program to give operators more time to come into compliance with the current law.
“SEC. 741. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be used—
(1) in contravention of section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940), subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, or section 10114 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018; or
(2) to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of hemp, or seeds of such plant, that is grown or cultivated in accordance with section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940) or Subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, within or outside the State in which the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated.”
“SEC. 766. Section 7605(b) of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (7 U.S.C. 5940 note; Public Law 115–334) is amended by striking ‘‘January 1, 2022’’ and inserting ‘‘January 1, 2023’’.”
In the report, lawmakers are also proposing $500,000 to support “genomics and bioinformatics research” into hemp, and it also says that the committee generally supports establishing a hemp germplasm repository to meet market demand for different varieties of the crop. Then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced the planned creation of the nation’s first hemp seed bank in 2019.
“Hemp Whole-Genome Bioinformatics.—The Committee provides $500,000 to conduct genomics and bioinformatics research in collaboration with capable institutions to elucidate the genetic control of key production and product quality traits of the hemp plant. In addition, the Committee also encourages ARS to partner with institutions already engaged in such research to conduct hemp genetic improvement research and breeding with new breeding and editing techniques.”
“Industrial Hemp Germplasm.—The Committee recognizes the increasing demand for industrial hemp for a variety of uses and its growing importance as a crop for U.S. farmers. The Committee supports efforts to maintain the hemp germplasm repository.”
Hemp presents an especially important economic opportunity for rural communities, the report says, and so USDA should clarify that businesses that deal in the crop should be eligible for all rural agricultural grants.
“Industrial Hemp.—The intent of Congress in Public Law 115–334 was for industrial hemp to be eligible for all USDA programs, including Rural Development. Industrial hemp can significantly benefit struggling rural economies. The Committee encourages Rural Development to ensure that industrial hemp is eligible for all competitive grant programs.”
Overall, the committee notes that it is allocating an increase in agricultural funding that includes about $17 million to support the federal hemp production program. That’s also the funding amount recommend under President Joe Biden’s budget plan, which separately has drawn criticism over its inclusion of the D.C. marijuana ban.
“Marketing Programs – The bill provides $223 million, $35 million above the FY 2021 enacted level and $10 million above the request, to facilitate the movement of agriculture products and open market opportunities. This includes…$16.7 million for the new hemp production program.”
The spending bills covering VA, FDA and USDA cleared a full committee markup on Wednesday, while the DHS legislation advanced at the subcommittee level.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.