More than 200 cannabis industry leaders from almost half the states in the country are converging this week on Capitol Hill to tell lawmakers it’s time to modernize federal marijuana laws.
As part of the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) lobby days, taking place Tuesday and Wednesday, marijuana business owners will hold at least 200 separate meetings with U.S. House and Senate offices. They are seeking support for a number of far-reaching bills that would limit or end the federal government’s interference with state cannabis laws and allow state-legal businesses to use banking services and be taxed more fairly.
Members of Congress from both parties spoke at a press conference hosted by the group outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Following last year’s NCIA lobby days, several key pieces of marijuana legislation saw substantial upticks in the number of lawmakers signing on as cosponsors.
For example, one key concern for NCIA members is a bill to allow cannabis businesses to access banks. Within a little over a month from the 2017 lobby days, 18 new House members joined as cosponsors. Three of those signed up right away, on the first day of NCIA’s event.
The legislation, which is still pending, now has 90 cosponsors, the most of any standalone piece of marijuana reform legislation in history. Similar banking legislation filed in 2015 only garnered a total of 39 cosponsors by the end of the 114th Congress.
Companion marijuana banking legislation was filed in the Senate the day before NCIA’s activists took to Capitol Hill for the 2017 lobbying meetings. The initial cosponsor list of eight senators has steadily risen to a current 16. The earlier version of that bill closed out the 114th Congress with only 11 cosponsors.
Another priority for NCIA members is scaling back a federal law, known as 280E, that disallows them from taking tax deductions that are available to businesses in other industries. Legislation to repeal that provision’s application to state-legal cannabis operators got 12 new cosponsors within two months of the group’s last constituent lobbying effort. It now has 44 lawmakers signed on. An earlier version only got 18 cosponsors altogether.
On the Senate side, current companion legislation now has six cosponsors, one of whom signed on within days of NCIA’s last lobby days, whereas the previous Senate 280E bill only got four cosponsors by the time the 114th Congress adjourned in early 2017.
It is likely that these bills, as well as others that NCIA is targeting, will see additional cosponsor bumps after this week’s Capitol Hill effort, especially since more state legal marijuana programs have since come online or expanded since last year’s lobby days. As a result, more members of Congress now represent more constituents who are directly impacted by current policy.
The stepped-up effort from marijuana business owners comes as several other pieces of cannabis legislation are drawing record support from lawmakers.
A bill filed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to legalize hemp, for example, already has more than a fifth of the body signed on as cosponsors after little more than a month since it was introduced. That includes Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who typically doesn’t team up with his rival party leader on many issues.
Wide-ranging racial justice legislation filed this month by members of the Congressional Black Caucus includes a provision to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It already has 44 cosponsors, giving it the most support of any cannabis descheduling bill ever introduced in Congress.
A Senate bill that would deschedule marijuana and withhold federal funding from states with discriminatory enforcement now has five cosponsors, several of whom are expected to run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
For now, businesses owners who are directly impacted by outdated federal cannabis laws are making their voices heard on Capitol Hill at a time when a growing number of lawmakers from both parties are already signing on to marijuana bills at a record pace.
Stay tuned to Marijuana Moment’s legislative tracking tools to see how many more senators and representatives cosponsor key cannabis bills in the coming weeks.
(Disclosure: Marijuana Moment’s publisher helped to write and edit a new NCIA report on the impact of state marijuana laws.)
Photo courtesy of David.
State Of Montana Launches Online Hemp Marketplace To Connect Buyers And Sellers
Say you’re a Montana farmer who has planted acres of industrial hemp. As harvest nears, you’re looking to offload it. Where do you go to find a buyer?
Montana’s Department of Agriculture says it has the answer.
The state this week announced the launch of an online “Hemp Marketplace,” unveiling an online portal meant to connect the hemp farmers with buyers in search of seeds, fiber and derivatives such as cannabidiol, or CBD.
“The Hemp Marketplace concept originated from the same idea as the department’s Hay Hotline,” the Agriculture Department says on its website, “only instead of hay and pasture, the online tool connects buyers and sellers of hemp and hemp derivatives.”
Listings are free of charge.
Montana farmers have embraced industrial hemp since the state legalized its production under a federal pilot program. The first legal crop was planted in 2017, and in recent years the state has led the country in terms of space dedicated to the plant. In 2018, for example, licensed farmers in Montana grew more acreage of hemp than any other U.S. state. While other states have since eclipsed the state’s hemp production—the crop became broadly federally legal through the 2018 Farm Bill—Montana remains an industry leader.
But to make revenue, farmers have to be able to sell their crop. That’s where the new hemp marketplace comes in. The online portal is essentially a sophisticated bulletin board for buyers and sellers, split into “Hemp for Sale” and “Hemp to Buy” categories.
“With hemp being a relatively new crop grown in Montana, the department recognizes that these markets are still developing,” Department of Agriculture Director Ben Thomas said in a statement. “The Hemp Marketplace was designed to help facilitate connections between buyers and sellers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the marketplace will continue to advance the industry.”
Listings include what type of products are on offer (or being sought), whether a given crop is organic and even whether laboratory testing data is available. The portal also organizes products into one of four varieties based on whether the hemp seeds have been certified by regulators. None of the products may contain more than 0.3 percent THC—the upper limit for what qualifies as hemp under both state and federal law.
Meanwhile, Montana voters are set to decide on Tuesday whether the state will legalize hemp’s more infamous cousin, high-THC marijuana. According to a poll released this week, passage looks likely: The survey, conducted by Montana State University at Billings, found that 54 percent of likely voters plan to support legal cannabis on the ballot. Another 38 percent said they were opposed, while 7 percent remained undecided.
At the federal level, officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration are still working to revise rules around marijuana and hemp to reflect Congress’s move to legalize hemp broadly in 2018. While the public comment on the proposals closed earlier this month, nine members of Congress cautioned the agency against adopting its proposed changes, warning some could put hemp producers at risk of criminal liability. Already a number of arrests and seizures have been made by law enforcement officers confused whether products were legal hemp or illicit marijuana.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), meanwhile, has faced separate criticism over its own proposed hemp rules, though it has been more proactive in addressing them. Following significant pushback from the industry over certain regulations it views as excessively restrictive, the agency reopened a public comment period, which closed again this month.
USDA is also planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the market.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak
Missouri Launches Medical Marijuana Sales At State’s First Dispensaries
Less than two years after Missouri voters approved a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana, dispensaries made the state’s first cannabis sales to patients on Saturday.
N’Bliss Cannabis opened the doors of two separate St. Louis County locations, in Ellisville and Manchester.
I was honored to watch Larry, a cancer survivor, and his wife Sue, an RN, make the state’s first legal medical cannabis purchase this morning in St Louis. @mocanntrade @NewApproachMO pic.twitter.com/rCudrkdbfI
— Jack Cardetti (@jackcardetti) October 17, 2020
“Missouri patients have always been our north star as we work to implement the state’s medical marijuana program,” Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said in a press release. “We greatly appreciate how hard everyone has worked so that patients can begin accessing a safe and well-regulated program.”
Officials have touted the speed with which they have gotten the voter-approved cannabis program off the ground, saying it is “one of the fastest implementations of a medical marijuana program in the United States.”
“A tremendous amount of work has occurred by the licensed facilities and our team to get us to this point, and we continue to hear from more facilities that they are ready or almost ready for their commencement inspection,” Lyndall Fraker, director of the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation, said in a press release. “We look forward to seeing these facilities open their doors to serve patients and caregivers.”
— Mo Health & Sr Srvcs (@HealthyLivingMo) October 17, 2020
The impending launch of sales on Saturday was first announced by the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association on Friday and reported by The Springfield News-Leader.
The wait is finally over! Tomorrow morning at 9am @NBlissCannabis will open the doors to their Ellisville and Manchester locations for the first medical marijuana sales in Missouri! Congrats to the whole N'Bliss team! The #MOMMJ industry is up and running! pic.twitter.com/wyZIcoyLBv
— MoCannTrade (@mocanntrade) October 16, 2020
The state, which has so far licensed 192 dispensaries and expects most of them to open their doors by the end of the year, posted an interactive map that tracks the status of approved medical marijuana businesses.
For months, regulators have been caught up in lawsuits and appeals challenging their licensing decisions, with revenues that would otherwise go to supporting veteran services instead being allocated to covering legal costs.
Missouri isn’t the only state to see medical cannabis sales launch this weekend. Virginia’s first medical marijuana dispensary also held its grand opening on Saturday.
Meanwhile, recreational sales of marijuana rolled out in Maine last week—four years after voters there approved a legalization ballot measure.
Illinois Continues Record-Breaking Marijuana Sales Streak, New State Data For September Shows
For the fifth month in a row, Illinois is again reporting record-breaking marijuana sales, the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced on Monday.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois has seen escalating cannabis sales month-over-month. In September, consumers purchased more than 1.4 million marijuana products worth a total of nearly $67 million. Almost $18 million of those sales came from out-of-state visitors.
In August, the total sales reached about $64 million—the previous monthly record. The new adult-use sales figures don’t include data about purchases made through the state’s medical cannabis program.
This latest data seems to support the notion that the state’s marijuana market is “recession-proof” and “pandemic-proof,” as a top regulator said in August.
State officials have emphasized that while the strong sales trend is positive economic news, they’re primarily interested in using tax revenue to reinvest in communities most impacted by the drug war. Illinois brought in $52 million in cannabis tax revenue in the first six months since retail sales started in January, the state announced in July, 25 percent of which will go toward a social equity program.
“We were not doing this to make as much money as fast as we possibly could,” Toi Hutchinson, senior cannabis advisor to Gov. J.B Pritzker (D), said. “We were actually doing this for people,” with a focus on supporting communities most impacted by the drug war.
In May, the state also announced that it was making available $31.5 million in restorative justice grants funded by marijuana tax revenue.
That said, ensuring an equitable market as promised hasn’t been easy. Regulators have recently faced lawsuits after dozens of would-be social equity licensees were denied an opportunity to participate in a licensing lottery over alleged problems with their applications. The state said it would approve 75, but only 21 ultimately qualified—and critics complain that the resources it takes to submit an acceptable application creates barriers for the exact people the special licenses are supposed to help.
The governor announced last month that new procedures would be implemented allowing rejected applicants to submit corrected forms. But on Monday, three investors who are finalists from the initial round filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging that the administration’s decision to permit resubmissions was politically motivated and illegal.
For now, the out-of-state sales data seems to support Pritzker’s prediction during his State of the State address in January that cannabis tourism would bolster the state’s coffers.
Prior to implementation, the pardoned more than 11,000 people with prior marijuana convictions.
Over in Oregon, officials have been witnessing a similar sales trend amid the global health crisis. Data released in August reveals that the state saw about $106 million in medical and recreational cannabis sales, marking the third month in a row that sales exceeded $100 million.