“Whatever obstacles Kentucky hemp farmers, processors and manufacturers might encounter as they try to take full advantage of this hemp revolution, I’ll be there to help in any way I can,” the Senate Majority Leader writes in an op-ed.
By Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Kentucky’s farmers are among the best in the world. It’s no surprise agriculture leaders from around the country are looking to the Bluegrass State and our prospering hemp industry. Right now, hemp is growing in 101 of our 120 counties and $100 million worth of Kentucky grown and processed hemp products are expected to be sold this year alone.
Our Commonwealth is proud of our long history with this versatile crop, and it’s been my privilege to lead the federal effort to chart its future. My bills—first to establish pilot programs in the 2014 farm bill and second to fully legalize hemp last year—are opening new doors for hemp. With Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and his predecessor, now-U.S. Congressman James Comer, we’re helping Kentucky lead the nation with hemp once again.
This summer, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue accepted my invitation to visit Kentucky and see this amazing success firsthand. Together with Commissioner Quarles, we traveled around the state to showcase the commodity’s great potential.
In Lexington, we visited the UK College of Agriculture’s research and teaching farm, where talented researchers are pushing the limits of what this plant can do. Their experimental trials aim to improve the crop’s viability and develop the best practices for farming. We discussed what hemp growers need to continue this new market’s upward trajectory. For example, too much hemp is lost to pests and weeds, and access to certain herbicides and pesticides can help protect crops.
Many aspiring hemp farmers continue to tell me about the need for crop insurance—a common tool for farmers to prepare for the possibility of severe weather or other natural disasters. Recently, President Trump signed into law my provision to ensure USDA offers coverage for hemp through whole farm revenue policies next growing season. These policies will serve as a bridge until individual hemp policies can be developed and approved, as we paved the way for in the 2018 farm bill.
.@SenateMajLdr McConnell column: Kentucky Leads with Industrial Hemp #Kentucky’s farmers are among the best in the world. It’s no surprise agriculture leaders from around the country are looking to the Bluegrass State and our prospering #hemp industry.https://t.co/iWffEaTmf5 pic.twitter.com/NRti5VCgjN
— Senator McConnell Press (@McConnellPress) August 14, 2019
At Commonwealth Extracts, a Louisville processing facility, we saw the production of hemp-derived CBD products up close. Through a similar process to bourbon distillation, this facility taps into hemp’s natural qualities for use in a wide range of health and wellness products. Although the 2018 farm bill removed CBD and other hemp-derived products from the controlled substances list, CBD processors and manufacturers still operate in a regulatory gray area without guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In June, I met with the acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner in my U.S. Capitol office to talk about some of these ongoing challenges. I explained Congress’ intent in legalizing hemp and urged him to work with me to provide certainty to producers across the country exploring hemp’s potential in health and food products.
During these visits, we also discussed the importance of financial services like credit card payment processing. Earlier this year, I contacted federal and state financial regulators as well as many banking institutions to encourage them to end the discrimination against hemp businesses. And thankfully, we are seeing some progress from Kentucky’s community financial institutions. Unfortunately, several large financial institutions are refusing to recognize hemp’s legality and making it harder for retailers to reach customers and grow their operations. I will continue to reiterate the new federal law and Congressional intent with these financial institutions. Whatever obstacles Kentucky hemp farmers, processors and manufacturers might encounter as they try to take full advantage of this hemp revolution, I’ll be there to help in any way I can.
Secretary Perdue and I also joined the Kentucky Farm Bureau in Shelbyville to discuss many issues facing Kentucky’s diverse agricultural communities. It seems like Kentucky hemp is making headline news every day. Just recently, a global outdoor business, which had previously sourced all of its hemp products from China, signed an agreement with a Kentucky hemp farmer. Now, fibers grown in Paris, Kentucky will be used in a major brand’s products. Even better, that global business is interested in working with more Kentucky hemp farmers in the future.
I’m thankful Secretary Perdue visited Kentucky to see our remarkable progress firsthand, and I’ll continue working with the USDA and other government agencies to provide Kentucky’s farmers with the support they need.
Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is the Senate Majority Leader and a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Andrew Yang Peddles Marijuana-Themed Presidential Campaign Merchandise
2020 candidate Andrew Yang announced on Saturday that his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is rolling out a line of marijuana-themed merch.
The limited edition products blend Yang’s love of mathematics with his support for cannabis reform. A t-shirt being offered for $30 simply says, “Math. Money. Marijuana.” And a now-sold-out baseball cap says “Math” on the front and displays a cannabis leaf on back. There’s also a bumper sticker that says, “Legalize Marijuana.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Buttigieg Pledges To Decriminalize Possession Of All Drugs In First Term As President
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a comprehensive plan on Friday that calls for “decriminalizing all drug possession” in his first presidential term as a means to combat the opioid epidemic and treat addiction as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.
Decriminalization is just one action the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said he’d pursue in order to reform the country’s mental health care system and bolster substance abuse treatment. His plan also includes proposals to reduce sentences for drug offenses other than possession, increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and make it easier to implement syringe exchange programs.
America’s addiction and mental health care crisis has been building for decades—due to decades of neglect by political leaders in Washington. Today, I’m proposing a new approach that tackles this crisis with the urgency and care it deserves. pic.twitter.com/U8F9DXJPC2
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
Buttigieg’s “Healing and Belonging in America” plan emphasizes the need to divert people suffering from addiction away from prisons and into treatment. He said he’d accomplish that by expanding diversionary programs and evidence-based training “for drug courts, mental health courts, and other alternatives to incarceration for justice-involved persons.”
The goal of decriminalization and diversion is to reduce “the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75 percent in the first term.”
Our country is in the midst of a mental health and addiction crisis, worsened by decades of stigma and political neglect. I’ll bring a new approach, rooted in commitment and community, to tackle this crisis with the urgency it deserves. https://t.co/spBoh5KH4X
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
Under his plan, sentencing reform for drug offenses other than possession would be applied retroactively and coupled with expungements for past convictions. Buttigieg pointed to research demonstrating that “incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths” and instead “actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem.”
“To ensure that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder can heal, we will decriminalize these conditions,” the proposal states. “When someone is undergoing a crisis or is caught using a drug, they should be treated by a health professional rather than punished in a jail cell.”
“All presidential candidates should join Pete Buttigieg in recognizing that the criminalization of people for their drug use is wrong and simply bad policy,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Action, said in a press release. “Possession of drugs for personal use is the single most arrested offense in the United States, eclipsing arrest rates for any other offense. With overdose numbers skyrocketing and entire communities, disproportionately black or brown, suffering from criminalization, it’s time for policymakers to shift gears. Taking an evidence-based, health-centered approach to address this crisis is not only true leadership – it’s common sense.”
The mayor also made harm reduction policies a key component of his strategy. He said take-home naloxone programs would be expanded to all 50 states by 2024 and that harm reduction services would be expanded “to reduce overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases related to needle sharing.”
The plan would make naloxone “broadly available in order to reverse overdoses” and remove “legislative and regulatory restrictions on the use of federal funds for syringe service programs.”
Buttigieg said the federal government should provide funding for state and local health departments to purchase the medication, make sure that it’s “available in public spaces and workplaces” similar to first aid kids and encourage “co-prescribing of naloxone with opioids, either by individual physicians or direct dispensing by pharmacists.”
Existing federal law makes it difficult to establish syringe exchange programs, in part because federal funds can’t be used to buy needles. The restrictions “hamper state and local responses, both because they limit resources and because they convey a negative message about the value of these programs, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they can prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis.”
In addition to lifting those barriers, the candidate said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “would also work with states to remove any criminal liability for those participating in” syringe exchange programs.
“Harm reduction programs are a critical part of any effective response to the opioid and injection drug use crisis. They minimize the negative impact of drug use without encouraging it, while reducing other side effects of drug use. In particular, this means access to syringe service programs for people who inject drugs, that link them to treatment, and provides access to sterile syringes. These programs help prevent transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infectious diseases associated with needle sharing, and reduce overdoses by deploying medication such as naloxone that help reverse the effects of opioids.”
One harm reduction policy that didn’t make the cut in Buttigieg’s plan is safe injection sites, where people could use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who could reverse overdoses and recommend treatment options. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who are also running for the Democratic nomination, both proposed legalizing such facilities as part of criminal justice reform plans they released this month.
“Decades of failed mental health and addiction policy, coupled with mass incarceration that criminalized mental illness and drug use, have left us with a mental health and addiction care system so broken that today there are more people with serious mental illness in prisons than in treatment facilities,” Buttigieg said.
The candidate also made ending incarceration for drug possession—as well as legalizing marijuana—central principles of his previously released criminal justice reform plan, which he released last month.
But while the prior plan did not explicitly describe the move as “decriminalizing” drugs, even though advocates commonly use that word to refer to policies that remove the threat of being imprisoned for possession, the new document does use that terminology—signaling a shift in clarity as Buttigieg continues to develop his campaign messaging.
In other instances, he borrowed language from his criminal justice reform plan, specifically as it concerns how criminalizing drug use can increase rates of overdose, for his mental health proposal.
“Despite equal rates of use, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for using marijuana,” the criminal justice plan states. “Research shows that incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths. In fact, some studies show that incarceration actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
Buttigieg mentioned that, as with drug offenses, black people are also more likely to die from overdoses. And that’s due to “the current broken system that criminalizes mental illness and addiction” that was “built during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.”
This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Action.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States
Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.
The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.
Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.
Got the answer: He believes it should be left up to the state. However, he does want to educate people on the effect marijuana has on young brain development, pregnant women and wants to come up with better guidance & testing for marijuana while driving. https://t.co/eifryNJB1j
— Kayla Sullivan (@KaylaReporting) August 14, 2019
It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.
Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.
Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”
“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”
Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.
During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”
“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”
He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.