A powerful U.S. Senate panel is directing agriculture authorities to begin building up the nation’s stockpile of cannabis genetics, and they’re setting aside half a million dollars to support the work.
Specifically, the Senate Appropriations Committee wants the federal Agricultural Research Service to spend $500,000 to maintain an industrial hemp seed bank.
The Committee recognizes the increasing demand for industrial hemp for a variety of uses, and its growing importance as a crop for U.S. farmers,” senators wrote in a report attached to legislation funding the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Fiscal Year 2019. “When the nation’s industrial hemp germplasm was destroyed in the 1980s, researchers lost access to publicly available germplasm for plant breeding purposes.”
As a 2003 article in the journal Economic Botany reported:
There are no publicly available germplasm collections of C. sativa in North America. The hundreds of seed collections acquired for Small’s studies (Small 1979) were destroyed in 1980 because Canadian government policy at that time envisioned no possibility that hemp would ever be developed as a legitimate crop; voucher specimens, however, were deposited in five herbaria. An inquiry regarding the 56 United States Department of Agriculture hemp germplasm collections grown by Small and Beckstead (1973) resulted in the reply that there are no remaining hemp collections in USDA germplasm holdings, and, indeed, that were such to be found they would have to be destroyed.
The new federally funded hemp seed stockpile will be housed at the department’s Plant Genetics Research Unit in Columbia, Missouri.
“The scarcity of high quality hemp seed is a roadblock to the development of an American hemp industry,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said in an email. “We are extremely pleased that Congress is providing funding to ensure that USDA will once again collect and store hemp germplasm and make it available to American farmers and researchers.”
Hemp and marijuana are both varietals of the cannabis plant. While the former does not have psychoactive properties, it is used in the development of a wide variety of foods, textiles, building materials and other products.
The text of the Agriculture Department funding legislation itself, which the Appropriations Committee unanimously approved on Thursday, continues a current provision that allows states to carry out industrial hemp research programs without federal interference:
Sec. 729. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be used—
(1) in contravention of section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940); or
(2) to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of industrial hemp, or seeds of such plant, that is grown or cultivated in accordance with subsection section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014, within or outside the State in which the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated.
Also in the report attached to the bill, senators are directing the Agriculture Department to publicize the eligibility of people carrying out such hemp research to receive federal funding to support that work:
Industrial Hemp.–The Committee is aware of statements made by the Department acknowledging the eligibility of researchers participating in industrial hemp pilot programs as defined by Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 to compete for Federal funds awarded by the Department. The Committee directs the Department to work with and inform stakeholders of this eligibility and to support industrial hemp research as authorized by Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014.
The developments come as the push to legalize hemp outright is heating up in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently filed a bill to remove hemp from the federal definition of marijuana, which would allow farmers across the country to grow the crop in accordance with state laws.
Fully a quarter of senators have signed onto the bill as cosponsors, and McConnell has announced he intends to insert its language into the larger Farm Bill moving through Congress this year.
House Republicans blocked an effort to add hemp legalization to that chamber’s version of the broad food and agriculture legislation, but if the language is successfully inserted into the Senate bill, it stands a good chance of reaching President Trump’s desk.
In a related development that hasn’t previously been reported, the White House recently responded to an industrial hemp petition that received more than the required 100,000 signatures last year.
The response reads:
Thank you for your petition regarding cultivation of hemp by American farmers.
State authorities—often a State’s department of agriculture—will generally be the best source for information about issues related to hemp cultivation.
Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 authorizes growing and cultivating industrial hemp for research purposes in States where such growth and cultivation is legal under State law. Under this provision, State agencies, and properly licensed, registered, or otherwise authorized persons and organizations—like institutions of higher education and persons and entities that contract with them, may cultivate hemp for research purposes.
The United States Department of Agriculture, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Department of Justice work together to implement section 7606.
Thank you, again, for contacting the White House.
While the original petition addressed broader issues, such as actual legalization of the crop’s cultivation, the White House reply addressing the current legality of hemp research programs goes further than an Obama administration’s reaction to a similar petition in 2012, which dismissed the crop as an illegal Schedule I substance.
Also last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sent an internal directive instructing agents not to go after legal hemp products.
Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording
President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.