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Legalizing Hemp Brings Schumer And McConnell Together

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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.

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.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Former FDA Chief Wants Federal Government To Regulate State Marijuana Markets

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Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Monday that the federal government should regulate state marijuana programs.

In his clearest comments on the issue to date, Gottlieb said in a CNBC appearance that the rise in vaping-related lung injuries underscores the need for a federal regulatory scheme that would empower agencies to impose industry standards on aspects of legal cannabis markets such as THC potency and allowable forms of consumption.

Previously, the official had been ambiguous about the extent to which the federal government should get involved, broadly arguing that vaping issues reflect a consequence of conflicting state and federal laws without specifically saying what his preferred policy fix would be. However, in an editorial for The Wall Street Journal published last week, he provided some clarification—hinting that federal drug scheduling laws should be reformed for cannabis—but still left room for interpretation.

But now, he is beginning to lay out specific details of a regulatory agenda.

Gottlieb said during the TV interview that enforcing prohibition is no longer “politically practicable” and that Congress should pass “a federal law that actually can be enforced and allow federal regulatory authorities to impose appropriate supervision.”

While he said he’s not in favor of adult-use legalization and would “like to see the recreational uses shut down entirely,” the reality is that many states have made that decision and so any federal regulatory scheme would have to include “some accommodation of that.”

“I think the time has come that we need to grapple with this at a federal level. We can’t ignore it any more.”

Asked whether states are capable of providing the types of regulations he’s calling for, Gottlieb said no because there’s a patchwork of policies across the country and states “don’t have the capacity to both police what’s being sold in their so-called legal dispensaries as well as shut down the black market.”

“I think you’re going to need federal authorities in there to do that,” he said.

Under the regulatory model Gottlieb is envisioning, FDA and other agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) “could regulate what’s being sold for the potency, for the manufacturing, for the ingredients, for the claims that are being made.”

“Even if we were to federalize it and allow some form of recreational use, we could limit what can be sold, the potency of what could be sold, the forms in which it can be sold,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think vaping THC products should be allowed.

Federal agencies could impose “tighter controls on the medical claims, holding them to a higher standard and allowing some form of recreational use, probably for products that are lower concentration, that are only delivered in forms that pose less harm than vaping e-liquids,” he said.

“There’s a way to have a compromise where you allow some form of recreational access in the states that want to allow it but something that looks far different than what you have today, something that’s far less permissive than the state laws,” he said. “That’s not a great outcome in my view from a public health standpoint, but what we have now is far worse where you have a federal government not enforcing the law at all—barely enforcing the law—because they know the existing law isn’t practical, and the states not imposing any supervision because they’re incapable of doing it or they don’t want to step in in a vigorous way.”

Dietary Supplement Industry Pushes Congress To Allow CBD Product Sales

Photo courtesy of YouTube/CNBC.

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Scotland’s Ruling Party Unanimously Backs Drug Decriminalization Measure

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Delegates of the Scottish National Party (SNP) unanimously approved a resolution calling for the decriminalization of drug possession and consumption on Sunday.

At a conference in Aberdeen, lawmakers representing Scotland’s largest party and the third largest in the UK Parliament argued that removing criminal penalties for drug offenses and treating addiction as a public health issue would combat an ongoing overdose crisis.

The proposed amendment to the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act stipulates that the current law is “not fit for purpose in 21st Century Scotland” and would add a provision “to allow for decriminalization of possession and consumption of controlled drugs so that health services are not prevented from giving treatment to those that need it.”

Members of Parliament Tommy Sheppard, Ronnie Cowan and Alison Thewliss of the SNP introduced the measure.

“Our law enforcement agencies are focused on the weak and vulnerable at the bottom of the pyramid, when they should be focused on the organized criminals at the top,” Sheppard said.

He added that if the UK government declines to pursue the reform move, it should “give Scotland the ability to do it instead, because we will take the steps necessary.”

Cowan noted that many people suffering from addiction have experienced some form of trauma and are self-medicating.

“Decriminalization demystifies drugs and places them firmly in the health arena,” he said. “Drug policy is about a mindset. Decriminalization changes the mindset and by changing that you can treat people as human beings and we can start a recovery process.”

As Common Space reported, previous SNP conferences have also seen the passage of progressive drug reform amendments, including one that would establish safe consumption sites to prevent overdoses and help people transition into treatment. Advocates have expressed frustration that the UK Parliament has generally resisted such harm reduction policies.

The Labour Party announced last month that it would launch a Royal Commission dedicated to reviewing the country’s drug laws if elected to the majority.

“The UK government’s cavalier attitude towards Scotland’s drugs emergency is simply appalling,” Thewliss said. “People are dying on our streets and the risk to the general public from discarded needles and transmission of blood borne diseases is very real—yet the Tories at Westminster sit on their hands.”

Glasgow Councillor Mhairi Hunter said at the conference that “challenging the stigma around addiction means challenging the laws that criminalize addiction.”

Over in the U.S., lawmakers remain primarily focused on reforming federal marijuana laws, but talk of broader decriminalization is growing. A survey released earlier this month found that a majority of Americans (55 percent) support the policy change.

Presidential candidates such as Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard have voiced support for decriminalization during the course of their campaigns for the Democratic nomination.

Denver and Oakland enacted policies this year focused on psychedelics decriminalization.

Majority Of Americans Support Decriminalizing All Drugs, Poll Finds

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Dietary Supplement Industry Pushes Congress To Allow CBD Product Sales

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Four trade associations representing the dietary supplement industry signed a letter urging federal lawmakers to take action to provide for the lawful marketing of CBD products while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) develops its regulations.

The American Herbal Products Association, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, Council for Responsible Nutrition and United Natural Products Alliance said Congress should “pass legislation to clarify that CBD derived from the hemp plant is a lawful dietary ingredient if the dietary supplement containing the CBD meets established product safety and quality criteria.”

To do that, the groups recommended granting a limited waiver that would exempt CBD products from a provision of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that would allow companies to sell CBD as dietary supplements as long as the products are derived from hemp and meet health and safety standards.

“Given the rapidly growing marketplace of products, it is crucial that Congress take quick action to clarify the legal status of hemp-derived CBD dietary supplements,” the letter states. “At the same time, it is equally essential for FDA to have the resources it needs to protect the public from unsafe CBD products.”

“These actions are urgent given the strong consumer interest in CBD, the growth in products and sales, and the need for clarity among consumers, retailers, and manufacturers about the legal status of these products,” the groups said.

Congressional action is needed, they argued, because FDA officials have indicated that the rulemaking process for CBD could take up to five years. They also expressed appreciation for agriculture spending legislation approved by a the Senate committee that would allocate $2 million to FDA to support their efforts to develop cannabidiol regulations.

“We urge Congress to go even further to include substantial new resources to enable effective FDA oversight of this fast-growing category, including funding for efficient and timely review of new dietary ingredient notifications and enforcement of existing laws governing the safety, manufacturing, and labeling of dietary supplements containing CBD,” the letter continues. “We urge that you work with FDA to determine a level of funding adequate to assure effective regulation of the CBD marketplace that does not detract from other agency enforcement priorities.”

“This is the best, most efficient, and most timely way to both set a clear regulatory framework for the marketplace and better assure consumer protection. While we can appreciate the FDA’s deliberative interest in making sure that consumers have access to safe CBD products, we are concerned that continuing to leave the marketplace without clarity and adequate oversight for an extended period of years will both endanger consumers and the bright future of the hemp-derived products they seek. Since it appears FDA is unlikely to provide a timely and effective resolution to this challenge, Congress must act.”

The dietary supplement industry is far from alone in its call for an expedited process to allow CBD products to be marketed.

A bipartisan coalition of senators—and notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—have also urged FDA to clear a path to allow for the lawful marketing of CBD products while the agency continues to develop regulations.

Read the full CBD letter from the dietary supplement industry groups below: 

Dietary Supplement Trade As… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Former FDA Head Floats Federal Marijuana Regulation ‘Compromise’ To Address Vaping Issue

Photo by Kimzy Nanney.

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