The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released much-anticipated proposed rules governing hemp on Tuesday, and the development was promptly met with applause from lawmakers and industry stakeholders.
While USDA said it is waiting until the conclusion of a 60-day public comment period before working to approve state and tribal hemp plans, the draft document it unveiled signals that farmers will soon be able to take full advantage of the newly legal crop—something that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have been fighting for since it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
Here’s how people are reacting:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wasted no time getting to the Senate floor to celebrate USDA’s announcement. As the chief proponent of the farm bill’s hemp legalization provision, the senator has repeatedly pushed the department to quickly implement regulations to unleash the industry’s potential.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “will release a new USDA regulation to implement my initiative and move hemp closer to being treated just like every other commodity,” he said. “This new policy will help farmers around the country continue pioneering this crop into the 21st century. And I’m proud to say Kentucky is prepared to take the lead.”
“This year alone, hemp is growing on more than 26,000 acres in Kentucky across 101 of our 120 counties. It supports hundreds of jobs and tens of millions in sales. So I impressed upon USDA the need to finalize this new framework before the 2020 growing season. And I’d like to thank Secretary Perdue and the USDA for fulfilling this commitment with the announcement we are expecting later this morning.”
McConnell stressed that “our work to support the future of hemp is hardly over,” noting ongoing conversations within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about developing rules providing for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products.
.@SenateMajLdr: @USDA plans to take important next step. @SecretarySonny will release new regulation to implement my initiative & move #hemp closer to being treated just like every other commodity…will help farmers around the country continue pioneering crop into 21st century https://t.co/9zuOk1oMYc
— Senator McConnell Press (@McConnellPress) October 29, 2019
— Senator McConnell Press (@McConnellPress) October 29, 2019
“There will inevitably be ups and downs as this new industry develops, but today’s announcement is another crucial step,” he said. “So, it’s a privilege for me to stand with Kentucky farmers every step of the way. Together, we’ll continue charting hemp’s course into the future.”
.@SenateMajLdr McConnell: "I’d like to thank @SecretarySonny and the @USDA for fulfilling this commitment with this announcement… It’s a privilege for me to stand with #Kentucky farmers every step of the way. Together, we’ll continue charting #hemp’s course into the future." https://t.co/ZNXReIWp9n
— Senator McConnell Press (@McConnellPress) October 29, 2019
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), another vocal advocate for hemp, also weighed in on USDA’s interim rule.
“I’ve long said that if you can make and sell hemp products in America, you should be able to grow hemp in America,” he said in a statement. “Congress passed my bipartisan Hemp Farming Act, and now federal regulations must be updated to reflect hemp’s legal status.”
“The USDA interim rule is an important first step to ending uncertainty for farmers, and I now look forward to reviewing the rule and working with the USDA and FDA to ensure farmers in Oregon and nationwide can fully realize this crop’s economic job-creating potential,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who said that hemp represents “a great opportunity to create jobs and grow Montana [agriculture].” He thanked Purdue and USDA for their “leadership on this issue.”
Hemp in Montana is a great opportunity to create jobs and grow Montana ag.
— Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) October 29, 2019
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said his state has “led the way in research and development of hemp for years” and said that the plant is “a new cash crop which is drought resistant, good for our land, & allows for more diversification.”
North Dakota has led the way in research and development of hemp for years.
I urge those same leaders and all of our agricultural stakeholders to work with USDA and offer their insight to ensure this program works best for them.
— Sen. Kevin Cramer (@SenKevinCramer) October 29, 2019
“I’m happy to see this program from USDA is developing the industrial hemp rules and regulations,” Rep. James Comer (R-KY) said in a press release. “This is a key step in helping this emerging industry move forward.”
Pleased that USDA has released #Hemp Regulations. Making hemp a reality was my campaign pledge when I ran for Ag Commissioner in 2011. We did it! And now Kentucky is the model for America in hemp production. #KY1 pic.twitter.com/ngz3siQoKA
— James Comer (@KYComer) October 29, 2019
The congressman also mentioned that legalization hemp was one of his campaign promises when running for agriculture commissioner in Kentucky in 2011.
Another congressman from Kentucky, Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), touted the role hemp has played in the state’s economy and said USDA’s announcement “will provide certainty to farmers and allow the industry to develop even further.”
I will continue to work in Congress to ensure our hemp farmers have the resources they need to grow their businesses.
— Rep. Andy Barr (@RepAndyBarr) October 29, 2019
“I will continue to work in Congress to ensure our hemp farmers have the resources they need to grow their businesses,” he said.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) said she’s pushed for months to have USDA “establish federal rules clarifying legal pathways for #hemp growers” because the lack of regulations caused the industry’s success to be “hindered.”
— Chellie Pingree (@chelliepingree) October 29, 2019
I look forward to working with USDA to ensure this interim final rule works for Maine hemp growers and provides them with eligibility for the full range of USDA programs,” the congresswoman said.
In a statement, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said his department will immediately act upon USDA’s regulations by conducting “a comprehensive review of our existing hemp program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s interim final rule.”
Today @USDA has released their long-awaited hemp rules. Over the next several weeks, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture will conduct a comprehensive review of our existing hemp program and these proposed rules. #KyAg365https://t.co/QaQh5iTlQe
— Commissioner Quarles (@KYAgCommish) October 29, 2019
I would especially like to thank @SecretarySonny, and Under Secretary Greg Ibach for their swift movement on putting together a rule for discussion, not even a year after the 2018 Farm Bill was signed. Read my statement here: https://t.co/QaQh5iTlQe #KyAg365
— Commissioner Quarles (@KYAgCommish) October 29, 2019
“We will have open dialogue with our growers, processors, and industry stakeholders about what this plan means for our state,” he said. “I would like to thank the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Under Secretary Greg Ibach for their swift movement on putting together a rule for discussion, not even a year after the 2018 Farm Bill was signed.”
Thank you @SecretarySonny and your team for issuing the guidance well ahead of the 2020 crop year. Kentucky’s hemp program will produce over $100 million in sales this year and has created hundreds of new agriculture jobs! https://t.co/mzTt1HH4FM
— Ryan Quarles (@RyanQuarlesKY) October 29, 2019
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said that the rules were “welcome news” and that the state’s hemp program “remains on track ahead of the 2020 growing season.”
Working with federal officials, our state hemp program remains on track ahead of the 2020 growing season – and to be a model for the nation.
— Commissioner Nikki Fried (@NikkiFriedFL) October 29, 2019
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said that the state will work to submit a plan to USDA and warned people not to grow hemp in the meantime.
“We look forward to reviewing the proposed hemp program rules provided by the USDA. We will use this information to refine Iowa’s draft hemp plan before we submit it to USDA for approval,” he said. “We are working hard to have Iowa’s hemp program implemented in time for the 2020 growing season. In the meantime, we want to caution people that it is not legal to cultivate, grow or distribute hemp in Iowa until the USDA approves our state plans. We also encourage growers to make sure they have quality seed and a buyer identified before they invest in hemp production.”
Oregon’s Department of Agriculture said it is “reviewing the 161-pages and is working to determine what changes if any need to be made to Oregon’s hemp program.”
The @USDA released its interim rules for hemp production today. @ORagriculture is reviewing the 161-pages and is working to determine what changes if any need to be made to Oregon's hemp program. ODA is also working on a state plan. Stay tuned! Rules here https://t.co/QDRSt0pqiA pic.twitter.com/S5taD2ySy9
— Oregon Dept. of Ag (@ORagriculture) October 29, 2019
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) similarly said it will move ahead and submit a regulatory plan for hemp to USDA.
Just like other states, we're excited about the potential for industrial hemp. The MDA is reviewing the interim rule and will work toward submitting our state plan to @USDA. @NASDAnews https://t.co/rd4SUQmNrT
— MN Agriculture Dept (@MNagriculture) October 29, 2019
“Just like other states, we’re excited about the potential for industrial hemp,” the department said in a tweet. “The MDA is reviewing the interim rule and will work toward submitting our state plan to USDA.”
Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, applauded USDA’s acceptance of a narrow interpretation of the ban on hemp industry participation by people with felony drug convictions that advocates had urged.
“We are pleased that, in the final rules, we were able to get the felony conviction ban removed for hemp workers, so that they can at least participate in the industry,” he said in a press release. “Unfortunately, more work still remains to completely eliminate the ban, so those with felony convictions can—not just work in the industry—but also lead it by being able to obtain licenses of their own. It is inconceivable that those that have been the most harmed by prohibition would then be further inflicted by being barred from taking part in the new legal economy.”
Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said the group is “excited to see the long awaited USDA hemp regulations announced this morning and feel USDA has done a good job.”
“We will be reviewing the regulations and providing comments as we expect some minor changes will be needed to ensure that the regulations work well for American farmers,” he said.
Shawn Hauser, partner and chair of the hemp and cannabinoids practice group at Vicente Sederberg LLP, said USDA’s issuance of hemp rules “represents a major agricultural, economic, and environmental milestone for our country.”
“After decades of being inappropriately classified as a narcotic, hemp is finally going to start being treated as an agricultural commodity in the U.S.,” she said. “Because it is one of the most versatile and sustainable crops on Earth, hemp holds significant promise not only for farmers, manufacturers, and consumers, but also for our planet. This is an exceptionally important development, and its historical significance truly cannot be overstated.”
“The USDA has established a regulatory framework that will serve as an infrastructure for the U.S. hemp economy. These interim rules provide long-awaited clarity, not only for farmers, but also for regulators and service providers like banks and insurance companies, who were hesitant to work with hemp-related businesses without federal guidelines. The rules also provide hemp farmers with important safeguards and benefits generally afforded to agricultural program participants, such as protection against state interference of interstate commerce, and eligibility for federal grants and programs.”
“We are thrilled that the Interim Final Rule has been released, and we are both eagerly poring over the details and encouraging all Hemp Supporters to share their feedback with us,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, said. “Last Friday, our Board of Directors met privately with USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach, and we were encouraged by his strong support for the hemp program and his interest in receiving industry feedback. We look forward to working with the USDA to develop the strongest possible domestic hemp program in the months ahead.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation said USDA’s rules “will provide clarity to hemp producers on everything from crop insurance, testing methods, and crop destruction protocols.”
The @USDA_AMS's Domestic Hemp Production Interim Final Rule, announced today, will provide clarity to #hemp producers on everything from crop insurance, testing methods, and crop destruction protocols: https://t.co/ZjE043PJYX pic.twitter.com/skIbSW7NQR
— American Farm Bureau (@FarmBureau) October 29, 2019
Prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana said it had several concerns with the rules, including interstate shipping issues and smokable hemp.
Today, the United States Department of Agriculture @USDA released draft guidelines on the cultivation and production of hemp.
Our statement: 🔽🔽🔽 pic.twitter.com/hF7wnsOx9G
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) October 29, 2019
Congressman Visits Marijuana Dispensary On Behalf Of Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Campaign
A congressman and staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign toured a marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas on Monday and discussed the need for federal cannabis reform.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who endorsed Sanders’s bid for the White House last week, shared photos on Twitter from the visit to NuWu Cannabis, a tribal-owned shop that features a consumption lounge and a drive-thru where consumers can buy marijuana products.
After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—@BernieSanders marijuana legalization plan will do just that. pic.twitter.com/XFWmIZKuus
— Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) January 21, 2020
“After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—[Sanders’s] marijuana legalization plan will do just that,” the congressman tweeted.
While the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wasn’t scheduled to attend the shop and has since had to drop campaign stops in order to participate in the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Pocan and Nevada campaign staff were there on his behalf, Tick Segerblom, a Clark County commissioner and former state senator who helped coordinate the event, told Marijuana Moment.
“We showed him around, explained on how it works, explained how it’s organized under state law,” Segerblom said of Pocan. “He said he’d never seen anything like it.”
The congressman also talked with business owners about the importance of social equity within the marijuana industry. He didn’t purchase or sample any cannabis products, however.
Segerblom said that while Sanders wasn’t able to attend this tour, he believes it’s important for the candidate to participate in such events and talk about his reform agenda to distinguish himself in the race.
“There’s a lot of people who will vote on this issue, and since [former Vice President Joe Biden] has come out against legalizing cannabis, I think it’s a very important issue for him to emphasize,” he said.
It’s fitting that Pocan would tour a tribal-owned cannabis business, as he was the chief sponsor of a 2016 bill that would have protected tribes from losing federal funds if they enact a legal marijuana program. Although the congressman represents Wisconsin, which doesn’t even have a comprehensive medical cannabis program let alone full adult-use legalization, he has cosponsored several cannabis reform bills this Congress, including two that would end federal prohibition.
State-legal dispensaries are getting a lot of high-profile attention from politicians lately. For example, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg visited a Las Vegas marijuana shop last year, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) paid a visit to a California dispensary and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) toured a business that makes CBD-infused chocolates.
Photo courtesy of Rep. Mark Pocan.
New Vermont Bill Would Decriminalize Psychedelics And Kratom
Vermont lawmakers filed a bill on Wednesday that would decriminalize three psychedelic substances as well as kratom.
Rep. Brian Cina (P/D) introduced the legislation, which would amend state law to carve out exemptions to the list of controlled substances. Psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and kratom would no longer be regulated under the proposal.
Cina told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that he decided to pursue the policy change based on a “belief that I share with many people around the world that plants are a gift from nature and they’re a part of the web of life that humans are connected to.”
“Plants, especially plant medicines, should be accessible to people,” he said. “Use of plant medicine should be considered a health care issue, not a criminal issue.”
Whether plant medicines are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize healing practices that go back to the very roots of our humanity. https://t.co/hRDWWqa7yb
— Brian Cina (@briancinavt) January 22, 2020
While it remains to be seen whether the legislature will have the appetite to pursue the policy change, the bill’s introduction represents another sign that the psychedelics reform movement has momentum. Activists in about 100 cities across the U.S. are working to decriminalize a wide range of entheogenic substances, but the Vermont proposal is unique in that it’s being handled legislatively at the state level.
Text of the bill states that the four substances are “commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.”
Larry Norris, cofounder of the national psychedelics reform group Decriminalize Nature, told Marijuana Moment that he’s especially encouraged by the use of the word “entheogenic,” a term that advocates are hoping to bring into the mainstream to more accurately describe the type of substances they want to decriminalize.
“It is exciting to see emerging interest at the state legislative level to support decriminalizing natural plants and fungi that are ‘commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes,'” he said. “The fact that the word entheogenic is making its way into the legislative lexicon speaks volumes for the shift in perspective that is happening nationwide.”
“While we were not involved in the drafting of this legislation, we look forward to offering any support and guidance to Representative Brian Cina in Vermont or any future state legislators aiming to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi,” Norris said.
Denver became the first city in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last year, followed by a unanimous City Council vote in Oakland to make a wide range of psychedelics among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. And while lawmakers have been comparatively slow to raise the issue in legislatures, activists in Oregon are working to put a therapeutic psilocybin initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot and, separately, a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs with a focus on funding substance misuse treatment. In California, meanwhile, advocates are aiming to put psilocybin legalization before voters in November.
Part of the motivation behind the legislation was “recognizing that the decriminalization of mushrooms seems to be a next step in other places, and thinking that it might have greater success if we can make the point that in the path of decriminalization, the next step after cannabis is psilocybin mushrooms,” Cina said. “It was important for me to make a point about the significance of plants.”
“What it goes back to for me ultimately is that any kind of use of substances should be treated as a health care matter, not a criminal issue,” he said. “Whether those substances are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize a behavior that goes back to the very roots of our humanity.”
The bill currently has three cosponsors and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. One of the cosponsors, Rep. Zachariah Ralph (P/D) told Marijuana Moment that he supports “the legalization of psychedelics because prohibition, generally, does not to work, and has continued to be enforced disproportionally against low income and minority communities.”
“Research at Johns Hopkins University and other facilities around the country on the medicinal use of psilocybin mushrooms are showing some promising results as a long term treatment of depression, addiction and anxiety,” he said. “This is especially important today as we deal with increased rates of suicides and drug overdoses across the nation and especially in Vermont.”
The bill’s introduction also comes as Vermont lawmakers express optimism about the prospects of expanding the state’s cannabis law to allow commercial sales.
While Gov. Phil Scott (R) has previously voiced opposition to allowing retail marijuana products to be sold, citing concerns about impaired driving, he recently indicated that he may be open to taxing and regulating the market. And according to top lawmakers in the state, the legislature is positioned to advance a cannabis commerce bill this session, with most members in favor of the reform move.
Vermont made history in 2018 by becoming the first state to pass marijuana legalization through the legislature, albeit with a noncommercial grow-and-give model. Now the question is whether lawmakers there will again make history by taking up psychedelics reform and decriminalizing these substances at the state level for the first time.
“We’ve decriminalized and then legalized and now might be regulating and taxing marijuana, which is a plant medicine,” Cina said. “But there are these other plant medicines that have been left behind.”
A Republican lawmaker in Iowa filed a bill to legalize certain psychedelics for medical purposes last year, but it did not advance.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
Mexican Lawmakers Plan To Pass Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill Before End Of April
An amended bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales in Mexico is being circulated among lawmakers, setting the stage for a renewed reform push as the legislature goes back into session next month.
The new proposal, which was jointly submitted by the Justice and Health Committees, would allow adults to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis for personal use and cultivate up to six plants. Individuals could apply for a license to possess more than 28 grams but no more than 200 grams.
While Sen. Ricardo Monreal Ávila of the ruling MORENA party said the measure is not final, it’s a next step in the process. He said he’ll be meeting with Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero and Julio Scherer, legal advisor to the president, next week to discuss cannabis reform legislation.
Under the proposed bill, those who possess an amount of marijuana between 28 and 200 grams would be charged a fine amounting to roughly $560, while stricter penalties would be imposed for possession of more than 200 grams.
The Mexican Cannabis Institute, a new regulatory body, would be responsible for issuing business licenses and developing rules for the market. The bill also contains provisions aimed at promoting social equity, such as prioritizing cultivation licenses for individuals from communities most impacted by the drug war.
The institute would also be able to issue grants for research into the cultivation of cannabis for commercial use, according to Milenio.
The introduction of this revised legislation comes more than a year after the nation’s Supreme Court deemed federal laws prohibiting personal marijuana possession and cultivation unconstitutional—a ruling that was followed by a legislative mandate to end the policy. In the months since, lawmakers have worked to develop a regulatory scheme to legalize the plant for adult use.
But while there was progress—with the Senate holding numerous public educational meetings, including one that featured a former White House drug czar—the legislature was unable to reach a compromise on a passable bill before the court’s October 2019 deadline, prompting leading lawmakers to request an extension.
The Supreme Court agreed to extend the deadline for a policy change to April 30.
The new bill going before the Congress is largely similar to the one that Senate committees unveiled just before the earlier deadline, but there have been some minor changes. For example, it amends the business licensing scheme. There will be five types of licenses that the institute can issue: cultivation, transformation, marketing, exports/imports and research.
Monreal stressed that “there is nothing ensured yet” in terms of the prospects for the new draft legislation being passed as written.
— Senadores Morena (@MorenaSenadores) January 21, 2020
“There are those who are not in favor even of the legislation in this matter, so all that we have to pick it up and translate it into the will expressed on the opinion,” he said, adding that the legislature still hopes to pass legalization before the April deadline.
Read the full draft Mexican marijuana legalization bill below: