There’s not much that the U.S. Senate’s top Republican and top Democrat agree on. But one of the few things that fosters bipartisan cooperation in Washington, D.C. these days is cannabis.
On Friday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he’s signing on as a cosponsor of a hemp legalization bill introduced last month by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
“It’s a crock,” Schumer said, referring to current federal law. “It makes no sense that the DEA is the primary regulator, and that they stop farmers and investors from growing hemp. Why are we buying hemp from other countries, when we have hundreds of acres that could be grown right here in our backyard?”
Hemp products like clothing and foods are legal to buy and sell in the U.S., but its cultivation is prohibited, meaning that those consumer goods must be made from imported crops.
McConnell’s legislation, which already has 10 other senators signed on, would remove hemp from the definition of marijuana, its psychoactive cousin, under the Controlled Substances Act.
Advocates are hopeful that the teaming up of the usually quarreling party leaders on hemp bodes well for further cannabis reforms.
“In a world where Senators McConnell and Schumer agree on almost nothing, having both Senate party leaders sponsoring legislation to end the federal prohibition of hemp only further reinforces the need for bipartisan legislation to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act entirely,” Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in an interview.
In reality, industrial hemp is an oyster with a pearl of opportunities that could mean millions in economic revenue while also helping to support new local jobs, like NY's Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 5, 2018
Industrial Hemp can be used to make everything from paper, to clothing, to plastics which is why it so important we fix this outdated law as soon as possible. All good reasons why I'm cosponsoring tr bipartisan Hemp Farming Act of 2018.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 5, 2018
McConnell has already announced plans to attach the language of his standalone hemp legislation to the larger Farm Bill, which sets agriculture and food policy for the nation. That proposal is expected to move through Congress this month.
“As the majority leader, I’m in charge of what we schedule, and we’re going to be scheduling the Farm Bill very soon after it comes out of the Agriculture Committee, and I expect that to happen in May,” he said in a recent interview.
McConnell’s hemp bill would remove restrictions on banking access, water rights and other roadblocks that hemp farmers and processors currently face. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would receive oversight plans from states, and then state departments of agriculture would regulate local production. The bill would also make USDA research funding available to farmers, and hemp plants would be eligible for crop insurance.
McConnell has often touted the economic benefits that hemp cultivation can bring to rural areas, including in his home state of Kentucky.
“We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky’s past,” he said when first announcing the bill.
McConnell already successfully inserted more limited hemp language to the last version of the Farm Bill, enacted in 2014, which shields state industrial hemp research programs from federal interference but does not entirely legalize the crop in the way the new proposal would.
Schumer, for his part, announced last month that he supports legalizing marijuana and would soon be introducing a bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act altogether. The move took many advocates by surprise, because the top Senate Democrat has long been a supporter of the war on drugs.
“The legislation is long overdue,” he said when announcing his new position. “I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined because they had small amounts of marijuana and served time in jail much too long.”
McConnell hasn’t yet publicly commented about Schumer’s pending broader marijuana legislation, which hasn’t yet been formally introduced, but the cannabis cooperation behind the hemp bill could signal the start of more robust bipartisan efforts to further scale back federal prohibition.
Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), for example, are expected to introduce legislation this month to amend federal law so that states can implement their own marijuana laws without interference, a move that President Trump agreed to support last month.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.
Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.
In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”
Is it time for #DecriminalizeNature #Berkeley? Agenda 4 at the public safety meeting this Wed. July 17, with the Decriminalize Nature team! This is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend. But if you live in Berkeley, write your City Council! https://t.co/gMSDkegMPU
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 15, 2019
However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”
The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”
Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.
The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.
“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.
While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.
Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.
Nature lovers are organizing coast to coast (and Hawaii)! Is your city on the map? Connect to join with your local community, or if you have the motivation to propose a similar initiative in your city/town/county, let’s start growing! contact [email protected] #DNUSA pic.twitter.com/38UxLKK9RN
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 2, 2019
On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.
Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”
Colorado Governor And USDA Official To Discuss CBD At Hemp Event
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official will speak at a hemp conference next month to discuss policy and regulations concerning hemp-derived dietary supplements.
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced the lineup of their first-ever hemp and CBD conference last week. The two-day event is meant to “provide critical information for companies navigating the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscapes to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).”
Following the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers and stakeholders have been quick to highlight the industry’s potential and to call for an expedited rulemaking process so that CBD can be lawfully marketed in food items and dietary supplements.
This conference will focus on dietary supplements in particular, with presentations on the current regulatory landscape for such products, compliance issues for hemp businesses and market analysis.
Polis has been a vocal advocate for marijuana reform and pledged in his State of the State address in January that he would make “good on the promise of industrial hemp in Colorado.”
Longtime hemp industry supporter, former U.S. Congressman and current Colorado Governor Jared Polis to present at AHPA Hemp-CBD Supplement Congress — https://t.co/2wPOcvdkHr — #supplement #cbd #hemp #hempindustry @GovofCO pic.twitter.com/tYhqj8HFlx
— AHPA (@AHPAssociation) July 10, 2019
“With our world class universities like Colorado State and Adams State, which are at the forefront of hemp innovation with the leading hemp manufacturers and cultivators already here, we want to seize on this opportunity under the most recent national Farm Bill to help make Colorado the national leader in industrial hemp production,” Polis said at the time.
AHPA’s two-day event will also feature USDA Senior Marketing Specialist William Richmond, who will brief attendees with an update on the department’s progress developing regulations for CBD. The department said last month that it is aiming to release an interim final rule on hemp in August.
But while USDA has regulatory authority over hemp, businesses will also have to await guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on marketing consumable CBD products. FDA said last week that it is “expediting” its rulemaking process and will release a report on its progress by early fall.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and hasn’t previously been added to the food supply or in dietary supplements, the agency will have to create an alternative regulatory pathway for the compounds, which could take years without congressional action.
In the meantime, it appears that both federal agencies are taking steps to increase transparency around their regulatory progress. Two days before the USDA official is set to appear at the AHPA conference, an FDA representative is scheduled to keynote a separate hemp industry summit to discuss related issues.
Marijuana Legalization Could Be On The Horizon For British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) could soon have a bill to legalize marijuana before the legislature, according to a government official.
Details are sparse, but Agriculture Minister Natalio Wheatley said on Saturday that the draft legislation under consideration would address concerns about youth consumption and impaired driving while ensuring that adults no longer face jail time for simple possession.
“We certainly know that marijuana, which contains THC, has an impact on your disposition. It has an impact on you being able to complete certain tasks,” he said, according to BVI News. “We don’t want to fool everyone into thinking that we think persons should be up and down smoking marijuana through the streets without any sort of regulation.”
He added that he hoped the legislation would make BVI a global model for legalization.
“We certainly support having a well-regulated industry, and the fact that we’re coming in late into this whole discussion of marijuana means that we don’t have to repeat the mistakes that some of our brothers and sisters made in other places,” he said.
The draft bill being circulated reportedly originated under the previous administration and is being improved upon. Wheatley said that residents, who he believes support legalization, should expect community meetings to be scheduled to discuss the proposal.
“Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” he said. “In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”
BVI’s cousin, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), hasn’t taken the step to allow adult use of marijuana, but the territory’s governor did sign a bill legalizing medical cannabis in January.
The sponsor of the USVI legislation, former senator and current Agriculture Commissioner Terrance “Positive” Nelson, said that he plans to continue to pursue broader reform, and he commended BVI for moving toward a commercial cannabis model.
“I told you already it is not easy to stand up for cannabis. I still have some scars on my back relative to the push in [USVI],” he said. “Here in the British Virgin Islands, you are talking about legalization and I want for local leaders here to continue to be brave enough to move forward.”
“Yes, there is going to be pushbacks. But the truth in the matter is this: the truth is on your side,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.