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Lawmakers And Industry Stakeholders React To USDA Hemp Rules Announcement

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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.

“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.”

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.”

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.”

“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.”

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,” 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.”

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.”

“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.”

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.”

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 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 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.”

Prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana said it had several concerns with the rules, including interstate shipping issues and smokable hemp.

 

USDA Releases Proposed Hemp Regulations For Public Comment

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 Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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A California senator is asking the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide clarification on whether hospitals and other healthcare facilities in legal marijuana states can allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis without jeopardizing federal funding.

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D) on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure inquiring about the policy. Confusion about possible implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led pro-legalization Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to veto a bill meant to address the issue in 2019.

Hueso refiled a nearly identical version of the legislation for this session, and it’s already passed the full Senate and one Assembly committee. It’s now awaiting action on the Assembly floor before potentially being sent to Newsom’s desk.

“Ryan’s Law would require that hospitals and certain types of healthcare facilities in the State of California allow a terminally-ill patient to use medical cannabis for treatment and/or pain relief,” the senator wrote in the letter to the federal officials, with whom he is asking to meet to discuss the issue. “Currently, whether or not medical cannabis is permitted is left up to hospital policy, and this creates issues for patients and their families who seek alternative, more natural medication options in their final days.”

Hospitals that receive CMS accreditation are generally expected to comply with local, state and federal laws in order to qualify for certain reimbursements. And so because marijuana remains federally illegal, “many healthcare facilities have adopted policies prohibiting cannabis on their grounds out of a perceived risk of losing federal funding if they were to allow it.”

But Hueso said that his office received a letter from CMS several months ago stating that there are no specific federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that it isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

Additionally, because the Justice Department has been barred under annually renewed spending legislation from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical marijuana programs, the senator said, “we believe the risk of federal intervention is little to none.”

“This confirmation from CMS been quite a breakthrough and we are optimistic it will alleviate the Governor’s concerns,” the letter continues. “However, I want to underscore that, prior to receiving this response, even the Governor of California was under the impression that CMS rules prohibited hospitals and healthcare facilities from allowing medical cannabis use.”

“Undoubtedly other states are struggling with this issue, too,” it says. “As more states decriminalize cannabis and even create recreational markets, we must not forget to also update the books for the most important consumers of all—patients.”

“While ideally the federal government will remove cannabis from its Schedule I designation, I appreciate that this is a lengthy and complex process. In the interim, it would be extremely helpful if you could provide clarification that assures Medicare/Medicaid providers that they will not lose reimbursements for allowing medical cannabis use on their premises. This clarification would go a long way to help hospital staff, security, above all, patients.”

Becerra, while previously serving as California attorney general and as a member of Congress, demonstrated a track record of supporting marijuana law reform.

Meanwhile, there are efforts in both chambers of Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are currently soliciting feedback on draft legalization legislation they introduced this month.

Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.

The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.

Read the letter from the California senator to Becerra below: 

Marijuana hospital letter t… by Marijuana Moment

Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

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A top Rhode Island lawmaker says that while there’s not yet a consensus among legislators and the governor on a bill to legalize marijuana, it’s still a “workable” issue and would be prioritized if a special session is convened this fall.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) told The Public’s Radio that it’s “possible” that a special session will be held later in the year after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on competing reform proposals.

“It really depends if we can come to some kind of resolution of consensus on a couple of major bills,” he said, referring to cannabis and a handful of other issues. “If we can, we certainly would come back.” But if not, members will continue to discuss the proposals and prepare to take them up at the start of the next session in January.

“Unfairly, sometimes I have or the House gets blamed for stopping the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, when in reality there is no consensus,” he said. “If we can come to some closeness, in the several different proposals, then we’ll move some kind of legislation. But if not, it just needs more work—and it’s very workable, so it’s very much something that can happen, we just have to put the effort in and make it happen.”

Listen to the speaker discuss the marijuana legalization plan, about 1:00 into the audio  below: 

Shekarchi similarly told Marijuana Moment in an email earlier this week that he’s “not opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” but “there have been very divergent proposals offered by Representative Scott Slater, the Senate, the governor and various advocacy groups.”

“As I have done with other issues, my role will be to bring the parties together and see if we can reach a consensus,” he said. “I will be working on the issue this summer and fall, and if an agreement can be reached, it is possible that one piece of legislation will be brought before the legislature for future consideration. But there is a lot of work to be done to reach consensus.”

Shekarchi and other top lawmakers have previously said they will work this summer to try to reach a compromise on the differing provisions of the competing legalization plans.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said earlier this month that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed a cannabis reform measure last month.

Shekarchi previously said that he feels reform is “inevitable.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

A key disagreement between the House, Senate and governor’s office concerns who should have regulatory authority over marijuana. Ruggerio was pressed on the issue during the recent interview and said members of his chamber agree that “a separate commission is the way to go with respect to this.”

The House and Gov. Dan McKee (D), on the other hand, want the program to be managed by the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Ruggerio noted that “it was difficult to negotiate on a bill when the House bill really didn’t come until late in the session.”

Asked whether he felt the legislature and governor could come to an agreement despite the differences, Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D) said this month that “that’s what our goal is.”

“Obviously there’s some issues that different people have relative to different categories of licenses and things like that and how we’re rolling them out,” he said. “Are we going to limit them? what type of equity are you going to give to the different people in different communities so that they can get into the business? And social equity and things of that nature.”

McCaffrey was also asked about provisions related to allowing local municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is passed in, the communities have an opportunity to opt out.”

“They have an opportunity to opt out if the community doesn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “That’s their decision—however, they don’t get the funds that would come from the sales in that community.”

The majority leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state. .

Shekarchi, meanwhile, said this month that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. But it is the case that legalization has now gone in effect in in surrounding states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“I’m not in any hurry to legalize marijuana for the sake of legalizing it. I want to do it right,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if we’re the last state in the union to legalize it or we never legalize it, but I need to do it right.”

Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, Shekarchi said.

These latest comment come weeks after the state Senate approved a legalization bill from McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D), which was introduced in March. The governor also came out with his own legalization proposal shortly thereafter.

A third Rhode Island legalization measure was later filed on the House side by Rep. Scott Slater (D) and several cosponsors. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the measure last month.

The governor, for his part, told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.

The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.

Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.

McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform in January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”

Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.

Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.

Meanwhile, the governor this month signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

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Ohio lawmakers on Friday formally introduced a bill to legalize marijuana possession, production and sales—the first effort of its kind in the state legislature. This comes as activists are pursuing a separate ballot initiative that would effectively force the legislature to consider similar cannabis reforms.

Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D) filed the legislation, weeks after circulating a co-sponsorship memo to colleagues to build support for the measure.

The 180-page bill would legalize possession of up to five ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older and allow them to cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use. It also includes provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities that are being made legal under the measure.

A 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with revenue first going toward the cost of implementation and then being divided among municipalities with at least one cannabis shop (15 percent), counties with at least one shop (15 percent), K-12 education (35 percent) and infrastructure (35 percent).

“It’s time to lead Ohio forward,” Weinstein said in a press release. “This is a big step for criminal justice reform, for our veterans, for economic opportunity, and for our individual liberties.”

The state Department of Commerce would be responsible for overseeing the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

Individual municipalities could restrict the type and number of marijuana that operate in their area. The bill specifically states that the state’s existing medical marijuana program would not be impacted by the establishment of an adult-use market.

“This bill is much needed in Ohio, and it’s time for Ohio to become a national leader in marijuana decriminalization and legalization,” Upchurch said. “This bill is more than just about legalization, it’s about economic and workforce development, it’s about decriminalization, and it’s about healthcare! The time is now, and I look forward to getting this done in a bipartisan fashion.”

Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose the effort given his record, but activists have effectively demonstrated through local initiatives that voters in the state broadly support enacting a cannabis policy change.

A newly formed organization called the the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) is also actively collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would separately force lawmakers to consider taking up legalization legislation once a certain signature gathering threshold is met.

“I’m glad to see it! It’s added momentum toward legalization,” Weinstein told Marijuana Moment earlier this week of the ballot effort. “And hopefully a looming ballot initiative will add some incentive for my Republican colleagues to work with me on my bill.”

Meanwhile, 22 jurisdictions have adopted local statues so far that reduce the penalty for low-level cannabis possession from a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine to the “lowest penalty allowed by state law.” And activists are pursuing similar policy changes in dozens of cities this year.

Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia, told Marijuana Moment that local officials have so far certified decriminalization initiatives in five cities they were targeting this year: Laurelville, McArthur, Murray City, New Lexington and New Straitsville.

Ohio activists had hoped to place a cannabis legalization initiative on the statewide ballot last year, but that effort stalled as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting public health restrictions made signature gathering all but impossible.

Local advocates sought relief through the court system to make it so they could collect signatures electronically for 2020 ballot initiatives, but the lawsuit was repeatedly rejected—most recently by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which ruled on Wednesday that the challenge was no longer relevant because last year’s election has passed and the case was therefore moot.

Read the text of the Ohio marijuana legalization bill below: 

Ohio marijuana legalization… by Marijuana Moment

GOP Senator Sponsoring Marijuana Banking Bill Proposes Controversial Welfare Restrictions For Cannabis Purchases

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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