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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

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Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate

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A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.

But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.

The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.

The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.

“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”

As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.

“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”

“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”

The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”

Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.

All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”

The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”

“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.

“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”

In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.

Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:

Industry SAFE Senate Bankin… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Senate Leadership Letter Re… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Senators Demand Update From DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications

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GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform

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A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”

“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.

Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”

Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.

The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.

Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).

Senators Demand Update From DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.

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State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally

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The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.

“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

MLB Officially Removes Marijuana From Banned Substances List For Baseball Players

Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.

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