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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

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Massachusetts Governor Defends Closing Recreational Marijuana Shops To Prevent Out-Of-State Shoppers

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The governor of Massachusetts doubled down on the state’s temporary closure of recreational marijuana shops during the coronavirus outbreak on Tuesday, telling reporters that allowing them to reopen could exacerbate the health crisis by attracting visitors from states where cannabis remains illegal.

During a press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) was asked about the state’s decision to exclude adult-use stores from the list of “essential businesses” that can continue to operate during the pandemic. He stressed that medical cannabis dispensaries can continue to serve patients but seemed to argue that the lack of regulated marijuana markets in surrounding states is forcing the state’s hand on recreational retailers.

“We are doing a lot of things to try to get people to stay at home,” he said, adding that travel advisories currently instruct out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“There is tons of evidence that because Massachusetts is one of the few states in the Northeast that has legalized recreational marijuana, that if we make recreational marijuana available as an essential business—remember, medical marijuana is available as an essential business—if we make recreational marijuana available, we are going to have to deal with the fact that people are going to come here from all over the place across the Northeast and create issues for us with respect to the fundamental issue we are trying to solve for here, which is to stop the spread,” Baker said. “For that reason and that reason alone, I think this is just a non-starter with us.”

Asked whether the state could make it so only Massachusetts residents could access adult-use shops, the governor said “I don’t know if you can do that legally,” though it’s “certainly something that some folks have talked about.”

Baker is facing pressure from regulators and industry stakeholders to allow recreational stores to stay open. Layoffs and furloughs have already started occurring in the market in response to his order.

In a letter to the governor on Monday, dozens of marijuana operators in the state argued that while they appreciate the need to protect public health during this pandemic, shuttering their businesses means people will turn to the illicit, unregulated market for cannabis, and that poses its own set of risks.

Shaleen Title, who serves as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, told Marijuana Moment that public safety “must remain our top priority as Massachusetts confronts the coronavirus pandemic” and she appreciates the governor “for recognizing that even as we strive to minimize unnecessary interactions, access to medical cannabis is essential to the health of tens of thousands of patients in Massachusetts.”

“And I welcome and share his confidence in the ability of the Commission and its medical licensees to operate safely amid the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, including by enhancing sanitation procedures, limiting the number of patrons, and allowing curbside pickup,” she said.

But she parted with the governor when it comes to recreational businesses.

“I believe those same measures, potentially along with a restriction on out-of-state customers, could be applied to adult-use facilities to allow for resumed operations,” she said. “Reopening these businesses would provide access to the many adult-use consumers who rely on cannabis for medical purposes.”

As the U.S. grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak, numerous states are having to decide where to draw the line for cannabis businesses. Many allow both adult-use and medical cannabis dispensaries to operate, with some recommending social distancing measures such as curbside pickup for marijuana products to mitigate the spread of the virus.

According to a recent poll, a majority of Americans agree that medical cannabis dispensaries are “essential services” that should remain open.

Marijuana Legalization ‘Not Likely’ In New York Budget, Governor Says On Eve Of Deadline

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Marijuana Legalization ‘Not Likely’ In New York Budget, Governor Says On Eve Of Deadline

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Marijuana legalization is “not likely” to be included in the final budget in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Tuesday, explaining that the issue proved too complicated as the state grapples with the coronavirus.

Another sign that the policy change isn’t happening as Cuomo and advocates had planned comes from a pair of newly revised budget bills that exclude the proposal, making it all but certain that legalization won’t make the final cut.

“Too much, too little time,” the governor said of the proposal during a press conference.

Wednesday is the deadline to deliver a budget, and so the identical Senate and Assembly spending bills that were freshly amended on Tuesday are unlikely to substantially change before they get a vote and sent to the governor’s desk. A provision in Cuomo’s original proposal that would implement an adult-use cannabis market was “intentionally omitted,” text of the legislation states. That phrase is used repeatedly throughout the legislation for policies that missed the cut.

That’s not to say that there’s no appetite for the reform move within the legislature. It was expected to make it into the budget, but the coronavirus outbreak shifted legislative priorities and legalization evidently proved too complicated an issue to work out ahead of the deadline. Top lawmakers have said there’s no reason that they can’t develop a comprehensive reform plan outside of the budget.

However, Cuomo said earlier this month that his preference would be to address legalization through the budget because, outside of that process, “the easiest thing for a legislative body to do is to do nothing.”

The release of the budget bills seems to confirm details included on a draft budget report that was shared with Marijuana Moment on Monday. It similarly said that the “Adopted Budget omits the Executive proposal to legalize adult use cannabis.”

A revised standalone legalization bill was recently introduced in the Senate, and advocates hoped the language would be inserted into the budget, but that didn’t pan out. However, it’s possible that legislators could still take it up separately after the budget is handled. That said, it remains to be seen when the legislature, which has scaled down other activity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, will be able to tackle the issue.

A spokesperson for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Liz Krueger (D), told Marijuana Moment on Monday that “nothing is done until it is done, but the Senator has said previously that the Governor’s staff essentially took marijuana off the table weeks ago” in budget talks.

The senator still believes that “if it can’t get done the right way in the budget right in the middle of overlapping public health and fiscal crises, that there is no reason it can’t get done right later.”

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), who has also sponsored a legalization bill, told Politico that “I wish that it was [included in the budget], but I don’t believe that it is.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to Senate and Assembly leadership for comment about the budget bills, but representatives were not immediately available.

“While legalizing cannabis is necessary to reduce the decades of unjust, racist targeting of communities of color in New York, our state faces a public health crisis right now and efforts to contain COVID-19 demand legislators’ full attention,” Kassandra Frederique or the Drug Policy Alliance said. “We remain committed to seeing legalization passed in New York at a time when critical components of equity and community reinvestment can be thoroughly addressed.”

“The regulation of marijuana in our state must be centered in economic and racial justice now more than ever, because we know the same communities targeted by drug enforcement are the ones with the least access to healthcare right now, the ones grappling with decades of the economic toll from criminalization, with low wages, unstable housing, and the ones losing jobs and loved ones at the same time,” she added. “The creation of a diversified and equitable industry that supports New York-based small businesses and farmers will be imperative coming out of this crisis. When the dust settles and New York has survived this pandemic, these communities that are on the frontlines of this crisis—in addition to the legacy of harmful enforcement—must be the center of our rebuilding effort.”

Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana celebrated reports that legalization would not be included in the budget, stating that “the consideration of marijuana legalization and commercialization during this outbreak is unconscionable and extremely shortsighted.”

Cuomo also originally planned to tour legal cannabis states to learn from their experiences and take lessons back home, but that plan was also derailed due to the coronavirus.

The governor pitched legalization in his budget proposal last year as well. But following months of negotiation, the legislature failed to produce a passable bill—with disagreements centering on issues such as how tax revenue would be allocated—and so the effort carried over to this year.

Cuomo seemed optimistic that 2020 would be the year for legal cannabis in New York, and he touted the proposal in his State of the State address in January. Just last week, he indicated the effort was still alive, though he also recognized that it may prove too complicated an issue to ultimately deliver through the budget this round.

Meanwhile, drug policy reform efforts across the country are struggling amid the pandemic.

Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.

Coronavirus Upends Marijuana, Psychedelics And Drug Reform Ballot Measures

This story was updated to include comment from Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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.
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DC Activists Have A New Plan To Get Psychedelics Decriminalization On The Ballot Despite Coronavirus

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Activists in Washington, D.C. are considering a new strategy to get a measure to decriminalize psychedelics on the November ballot, with the coronavirus outbreak having forced them to suspend in-person signature gathering.

While Decriminalize Nature D.C. hoped that officials would pass emergency legislation allowing the digital collection of signatures, they aren’t actively considering that option. And the District Council’s chairman said he would not simply place the initiative on the ballot for voters to decide regardless of the signature count.

That’s left the group in a challenging position. But they’re not out of ideas yet.

Now the campaign is exploring the possibility of conducting “micro-scale petition signature collection” to make the ballot. The plan would involve having petitions mailed to supporters, who would circulate it and collect signatures from “registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors” and then return the signed petitions to the campaign headquarters.

They’ve launched an online survey to determine the feasibility of the option. It asks prospective volunteers to estimate how many signatures they could theoretically collect under that limited scope and provide their mailing information should the campaign decide to move forward with the plan.

This is one of the last remaining options for the 2020 effort, which is working to make a wide range of psychedelics among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said during a press conference on Friday that he “would not say that we’re looking for legislative action to put [the initiative] on the ballot” outside of the conventional process.

Board of Elections Chairman Michael Bennett also took a question about the prospect of allow electronic signature collection. He said his panel is not considering the possibility “at this point.”

Watch the comments below, starting around 22:15:

Decriminalize Nature D.C. is one of numerous groups working to change local and state drug policy laws. And it’s not alone in its struggle amid the current pandemic.

A California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.

Marijuana Legalization Left Out Of New York Budget, According To Draft Summary Document

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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.
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