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Mitch McConnell Directs DEA To Figure Out How To Distinguish Hemp From Marijuana

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) inserted language into a spending bill report on Thursday directing the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to develop technology that can distinguish hemp from its “illicit cousin” marijuana.

The provision, which was attached to legislation to fund the Department of Justice for Fiscal Year 2020, is meant to support hemp manufacturers and regulators who must ensure that the crop is at or below a 0.3 percent THC content—the legal definition of hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill.

McConnell championed a measure in the wide-ranging agriculture legislation that federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, and he’s since devoted significant efforts to securing protections for the industry. For example, he backed provisions added to a separate appropriations bill last week that provides funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement hemp regulations.

“The Committee is aware that law enforcement and other agencies need to have access to laboratory testing and on-the-spot field testing technologies and devices to distinguish between hemp and marijuana,” McConnell’s report language states.

The panel notes current DEA research on the issue and is directing the agency to “report back to the Committee not later than 180 days after enactment of this act, and not less than every 6 months thereafter, until such time as technologies are identified and deployed to law enforcement in the field.”

“I stand ready to work with Kentucky’s hemp producers to address whatever challenges arise as they explore the full potential of this remarkable crop,” McConnell said of his latest provision. “Ensuring law enforcement can differentiate between industrial hemp and its illicit cousin is critical, and I’ll continue working with the DEA and other federal agencies so hemp can be treated the same as any other legal commodity.”

The measure, according to a McConnell press release, directs DEA to “to identify or develop on-the-spot field testing technologies” that would “enable law enforcement to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.”

DEA said in March that it was soliciting help to develop a device that can “provide specificity” in telling the cannabis cousins apart.

A separate provision in the new report “directs DEA to ensure the subsequent drug codes and scheduling guidance for marijuana (cannabis) and marijuana extracts shall be updated to reflect” the removal of hemp as a controlled substance.

In May, McConnell also added language to a disaster relief funding bill clarifying that hemp farmers are entitled to federal crop insurance.

Besides his hemp-specific advocacy, the senator has pushed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop rules allowing one of the crop’s derivatives, CBD, to be marketed as a food item or dietary supplement.

He asked the head of the FDA in a letter this month to clear a path for the lawful marketing of CBD products, urging the department to issue enforcement discretion guidelines so that CBD businesses know FDA will only target seriously bad actors as it develops long-term regulations.

Red the full language of the funding bill’s hemp provisions below:

Hemp Farming Act Guidance.—The Committee notes that the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act. The Committee appreciates DEA’s Notice on August 27, 2019, affirming the legal status of hemp, including hemp plants and cannabidiol [CBD] preparations at or below the 0.3 percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] threshold, and directs DEA to ensure the subsequent drug codes and scheduling guidance for marijuana (cannabis) and marijuana extracts shall be updated to reflect this removal.

Hemp Testing Technology.—The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, and authorized the production, consumption and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products in the United States. The Act requires random testing to ensure hemp meets the definition under the law of having a delta-9 THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent. The Committee is aware that law enforcement and other agencies need to have access to laboratory testing and on-the-spot field testing technologies and devices to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. The Committee is aware that DEA is conducting research in this area and has received responses to a Request for Information to identify any technology in the marketplace capable of providing field test kits. The Committee directs the DEA to continue to work to identify and/or develop such devices and technologies. The Committee further directs the DEA to report back to the Committee not later than 180 days after enactment of this act, and not less than every 6 months thereafter, until such time as technologies are identified and deployed to law enforcement in the field.

This story was updated to note the correct funding legislation that the hemp provision is attached to and to include the full language.

USDA Official Says There Are ‘Challenges’ Giving Hemp Farmers Insurance Coverage

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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Bernie Sanders Congratulates Canada On One-Year Marijuana Legalization Anniversary

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) offered his congratulations to Canada on Thursday, marking the one-year anniversary of the country’s implementation of a legal marijuana market.

“Congratulations to our neighbors to the north on completing their first year of marijuana legalization!” the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said on Twitter. “Vermont shares a border with Canada, and as far as I can tell, the sky has not fallen and the cities have not plunged into anarchy on the other side.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made cannabis legalization a key campaign promise, and while it took longer than some had anticipated, lawmakers approved a historic reform bill in June 2018. It went into effect on October 17 last year.

He also acknowledged the anniversary on Thursday, stating at a press conference that the decision “to keep our communities safer and remove profits of the pockets of organized crime was the right one.”

It’s not clear how much of a boost that achievement will give Trudeau when voters head to the polls on Monday for a national election that could see the Liberal Party removed from the majority as the prime minister faces backlash over controversies such as revelations he on several occasions wore blackface and brownface.

But regardless of the election outcome, leaders from all parties—including the Conservatives, all of whom voted against the legalization bill in the Senate except one—have said they would not reverse the law. Instead, one of the main drug policy issues that have separated the leaders is their respective positions on decriminalizing possession of substances beyond marijuana.

Trudeau and Sanders share a personal opposition to the reform move, with the senator stating on two occasions recently that he’s “not there yet” on the issue. The prime minister has similarly stated that decriminalization is not on his agenda and that he remains focus on cannabis.

The New Democratic Party and its leader, Jagmeet Singh, are in favor of broad drug decriminalization, as are the Green Party and its leader Elizabeth May.

The issue also came up during a Democratic presidential debate in the U.S. on Tuesday. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) both expressed support for decriminalizing possession of opioids.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have endorsed decriminalizing possession of all drugs.

Sanders didn’t weigh in on the issue at that debate, but when asked to address his recent health episode, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) chimed in to joke that “Sanders is in favor of medical marijuana, I want to make sure that’s clear as well.”

“I do,” Sanders said, adding that “I’m not on it tonight.”

Where Canada’s Political Parties Stand On Marijuana And Drugs Ahead Of The Election

Photo courtesy of Phil Roeder.

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Key GOP Senate Chairman Outlines Changes He Wants For Marijuana Banking Bill

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The head of the Senate Banking Committee is clarifying which aspects of a House-passed marijuana banking bill he would like to change as his panel moves toward taking up the legislation.

In a Thursday interview with Marijuana Moment on Capitol Hill, Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) described modifications he is working on to the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which cleared the House along bipartisan lines in a 321-103 vote last month.

“The things we’re looking at are, first of all, to make sure we improve and clarify the interstate banking application of all of this,” Crapo said. “Secondly, money laundering issues with regard to legacy cash to make sure how that is managed properly. [Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] issues and other related issues. And then finally the health and safety issues about what is going to be banked.”

“Take tobacco for example, every state I think has some kind of regulatory parameters around the utilization of tobacco, even if it’s just an age limit on who can purchase it or what have you and the types of products that are going to be allowed,” he continued. “That gets into a legal issue that I think the states need to be more engaged in, but it also impacts the question on what would be banked. Those kinds of issues—health and safety, interstate commerce and money laundering.”

While it’s not exactly clear which language changes Crapo has in mind for the House-passed legislation, his reference to “health and safety issues about what is going to be banked” could refer to certain restrictions on cannabis businesses that want to store their profits in financial institutions, or even requirements that states enact certain policies in order for operators within their jurisdictions to qualify.

In response to another reporter’s question about the spike in vaping-related injuries, the chairman said that’s “a good example of one of the big concerns that I have that we need to address in the bill, which is the health and safety aspects of the use.”

“We are working to revise the bill and develop the support for the bill to move forward,” he said.

Crapo first announced last month that he’d like to take up legislation addressing the issue in his panel before the end of the year and that the reform measure will likely enjoy bipartisan support in the full Senate. However, he’s held off on endorsing the SAFE Banking Act as currently written. His committee held a hearing on banking concerns in the cannabis industry in July.

“We’re working to try to get a bill ready,” the senator perviously told Politico. “I’m looking to see whether we can thread the needle.”

If the Banking Committee does pass legislation protecting banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators, it may encounter resistance in the full Senate from some pro-legalization lawmakers such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), each of whom have said comprehensive marijuana reform that addresses social equity should be prioritized over legislation that’s viewed as primarily friendly to industry stakeholders.

Crapo also told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he has not spoken to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) about a low-key trip the top GOP senator took to California last week, during which he met marijuana industry representatives and reportedly toured a cannabis-related business.

McConnell’s buy-in will be key to advancing the cannabis banking legislation to President Trump’s desk if it moves through Crapo’s committee.

Aaron Houston contributed reporting for this story from Washington, D.C.

Presidential Candidate Wants To Let Americans Legalize Marijuana Through National Referendum

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Governors Of Northeastern States Adopt Coordinated Marijuana Legalization Plan

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A group of governors representing states across the Northeast convened on Thursday for a marijuana summit at which they agreed to basic principles for legal cannabis programs they plan to pursue in 2020.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) organized the meeting. They were joined by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who came out in favor of legalization last month. Representatives from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Colorado also attended.

“This is a very important topic,” Cuomo said in his opening statement. “It is probably one of the most challenging issues that I know I’ve had to address in the state of New York. It is complicated, it is controversial and it is consequential. That is a very difficult and challenging combination.”

“It’s consequential because if you do not do it right, you can do harm, and the whole purpose here is to do good,” he said.

The summit is being broken up into five sessions: on vaping and related issues, market regulation and social justice issues, public health consequences of cannabis, public safety issues and a “best practices” panel led by Colorado representatives.

“The point is, this is a challenge for all of us,” Cuomo said. “There is a desire to do this. I believe the people of this state and our surrounding states have a desire to do it. But the old expression the devil is in the details, how you do this makes all the difference. And as I said it can be a positive if done right, it can be a negative if it is not done correctly.”

Lamont, who also talked cannabis with Cuomo during a fishing trip in August and again during a meeting last month, said the current “patchwork quilt” approach that states have taken to marijuana regulations is “unconscionable” and emphasized the need for regional coordination.

“This makes sense: sitting down, working together, working together with New Jersey, working with Pennsylvania and our other neighbors to make sure that what we do, we do it on a standardized basis, we do it on a well-regulated basis with health and safety paramount,” the governor said. “I think we’re much stronger when we work together and that’s what this meeting is all about.”

The governors agreed to determine an ideal tax scheme for marijuana and impose certain limitations on licensing to “ensure a fair and competitive market.” The taxes will also be designed to prevent an increase in consumption.

Importantly, the officials said their systems will include “social equity initiatives to ensure industry access to those who have been disproportionately impacted by the prohibition of cannabis” and to prioritize “small and diverse businesses’ participation in the cannabis industry.”

Another policy calls for the implementation of “meaningful social justice reform with regard to cannabis policy, including expediting expungements or pardons, waiving fees associated with expungements or pardons and securing legislation to support these reforms.”

In terms of public health, the governors were in consensus about imposing restrictions on modes of cannabis consumption and advertising. They said they will prohibit advertising that targets youth and create “strict penalties” for selling marijuana to those under 21. Public education campaigns will also be utilized “ to inform youth and the general public about the health and safety consequences of cannabis use.”

To ensure public safety, the governors said they agreed to have uniform standards for law enforcement trained as drug recognition experts to identify impaired driving. Methods will be developed to target the illicit market and identify “bad actors” in the industry.

Congress should pass a bill allowing banks to service marijuana businesses, they said.

“So long as it remains difficult to open and maintain bank accounts, the state-legal marijuana industry will largely rely on cash to conduct business and operate, which results in public safety issues and creates unique burdens for legal marijuana businesses,” the core principles document says.

The officials also agreed to a set of regulations for vaping products, including a ban or strict regulations on flavored cartridges, preventing the use of adulterants, imposing labeling requirements and increasing enforcement against retailers that sell vaping products to those under 21.

All told, the agreed-upon policies are likely to appeal to reform advocates, as nothing especially controversial made it into the list of principles. There were some concerns that a ban on home cultivation or smokable marijuana products would be included, as Cuomo recently hinted he might push for the latter policy.

“Cooperating as a coalition of states on these issues is the best path forward—as we not only share borders, but we share economic interests, public health priorities, and a joint understanding that the more states that work together on these kinds of issues, the better the policy results will be for our residents,” Lamont said.

Wolf noted that his administration had recently concluded a statewide listening tour to hear from residents about proposals to legalize cannabis and said that based on that input, “we need to bring this into the open.”

“We need regulation, we need to make sure we’re protecting public health, public safety. But that’s regulation, not prohibition,” he said. “It’s also really important that we work together as a region to make sure that we’re on the same page.”

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who led the statewide cannabis tour, was also present at the summit.

Murphy emphasized that “doing things in an intelligent, coordinated, harmonious way is good for the entirety of not just our states but our residents.” He added that there are two main issues the leaders must tackle: combating the spike in vaping-related injuries and promoting social justice.

“We’ve got a shocking gap between persons incarcerated in our system along racial lines, and it’s almost entirely due to low-end marijuana offenses,” he said. “Putting aside all of the other factors that come into the cannabis discussion, the social justice, at least in New Jersey, screams out at us and it’s why we’ve come to the table with such passion.”

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) also participated.

“In the absence of federal leadership, Governors are coming together and taking a regional approach to vaping and cannabis regulations,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), who did not attend the summit herself, said in a press release. “The principles we’ve agreed to today will allow us to better coordinate our efforts as we address some of the most challenging issues facing our states. Through this partnership, we will work together to protect families from the dangers posed by the illicit cannabis market and vaping.”

Following the opening statements, panels led by experts were invited to testify about their respective cannabis and vaping-related topics for five minutes and then answer questions. While the governors’ opening statements were livestreamed online, the discussion sessions were closed to press.

The list of principles that came out of the summit was released Thursday afternoon.

The governors each represent states where lawmakers have unsuccessfully attempted to legalize marijuana. Efforts stalled in New York following months of negotiation between Cuomo and the legislature, with disagreements centering on issues such as tax rates and how revenue would be earmarked.

Despite several successful committee votes and hearings on legalization legislation in Connecticut, legalization legislation didn’t reach the floor of either chamber.

In New Jersey, bids to legalize cannabis for adult use failed, with lawmakers suggesting they might advance the issue through a referendum for voters to decide on next year.

Pennsylvania lawmakers discussed a legalization bill during a joint Senate and House Democratic Policy Committee in April, but that did not materialize either. However, following the listening tour and with the backing of Wolf, a comprehensive piece of legalization legislation that was introduced on Tuesday is believed to stand a better chance.

This story has been updated to include additional comments and information about legalization principles the governors agreed to.

Pennsylvania Senators File Comprehensive Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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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