Connect with us

Politics

Senators Approve Funds For Feds To Restore Cannabis Genetics

Published

on

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.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

California Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Is A ‘Civil Rights’ Matter Amid Mass Protests Over Racial Injustice

Published

on

The governor of California discussed systemic racism and injustice that is inspiring mass protests across the country in a Friday speech, and he touted the state’s legalization of marijuana as an example of how it has addressed racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a press conference that he’s “very proud of this state” for going beyond issues such as implicit bias in policing and the “deadly use of force.” California’s leadership helped advance “a conversation about broader criminal justice reform to address the issues of the war on drugs” and “race-based sentencing,” he said.

“That’s why the state was one of the early adopters of a new approach as it relates to cannabis reform. Legalization around adult-use of marijuana,” he said. “It was a civil rights call from our perspective.”

“I was proud to be out in front in those efforts,” he added. “It was about addressing the disparities. It was about addressing incarceration. It was about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.”

Newsom also discussed the racially discriminatory sentencing of crack versus powder cocaine and other mandatory minimum sentencing policies. While the federal disparity was reduced over time since Congress passed the sentencing provision—a policy presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden helped enacted during his time in the Senate and later sought to undo—California eliminated the distinction in terms of state sentencing in 2014.

Even so, the governor recognized that the reforms the state has enacted to date are “not enough” and more work needs to be done. He’s also not alone in drawing a connection between drug policy reform and racial justice.

Earlier this week, the governor of Virginia said that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also recently said racial disparities in marijuana criminalization is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.

Last week, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs. It now has 160 cosponsors.

The measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.

In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana. Sen. Julia Salazar (D) told Marijuana Moment that “in this particular moment, I think what’s the important factor here is that [criminalization] disproportionately impacts black and brown New Yorkers.”

“Because of the criminalization of the use of marijuana, more black and brown New Yorkers have interactions with police than they need to,” she said. “More people end up in the criminal justice system in the first place than is necessary at all.”

New Jersey Lawmakers File Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Ahead Of Broader Legalization Referendum

Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

American Bar Association Says Firms Working ‘Indirectly’ With Marijuana Industry Should Get COVID Relief

Published

on

The American Bar Association (ABA) sent a letter to the heads of the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) on Friday, urging them to end a current policy preventing law firms that service state-legal marijuana businesses from receiving federal coronavirus relief.

SBA has made clear that cannabis companies are ineligible for its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans—but its policy also bars those that work with marijuana businesses indirectly from getting the aid. ABA, which has nearly 200,000 dues-paying members, said it wants clarification or a formal policy change to make it so indirect businesses are not impacted.

“The ABA supports amending federal law to ensure that lawyers do not face the threat of criminal charges when they represent clients in states that have legalized marijuana,” the organization said. “Even before those changes are made to federal law, lawyers should also not be penalized for providing legal services to cannabis-related businesses that comply with state laws.”

ABA also argued that the policy is excessively broad in that it stipulates that companies that derive any revenue from servicing a cannabis business cannot receive relief during the pandemic. “Thus, a law firm where a single lawyer provided advice to a single marijuana business client on legal issues for a nominal fee would arguably be ineligible under this language for the SBA PPP loan program,” the organization wrote.

ABA’s letter further notes that 78 percent of firms are located in states where marijuana is legal in some form.

“We urge SBA to provide further guidance that it will not treat otherwise eligible businesses, including law firms, as disqualified from the PPP program based solely on having provided legal, financial/accounting, policy, or regulatory advice to a Direct Marijuana Business,” Judy Perry Martinez, ABA’s president, wrote.

Steve Fox, strategic advisor at the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that it’s “wonderful to see an organization with the reputation and stature of the ABA engage on this issue.”

“As they note, the SBA guidance is overly broad and unjustly punishes companies and firms all across the country. In fact, in some states, the cannabis industry is so ingrained in the economy, you have many hundreds of companies providing goods or services to cannabis businesses,” he said. “According to the plain language of the SBA guidance, they are all, with very minor exceptions, ineligible for PPP loans.”

“We stand with the ABA in urging the Treasury and Small Business Administration to issue further guidance, clarifying that ‘indirect marijuana businesses’ are eligible for PPP loans. If they fail to do so, Congress should remedy this situation at the earliest possible opportunity,” he added.

In February, ABA’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill last month that would fix the COVID-19 relief access problem, calling for SBA eligibility for cannabis businesses and ancillary companies. That came after he led a letter with 34 bipartisan members of the House urging leadership to include the policy change in future coronavirus-related bills.

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) made a similar request to Senate leaders in a separate letter.

Separately, the ABA-supported Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was included in a House-passed COVID-19 relief package last month.

A bipartisan coalition of 34 state and territory attorneys general asked Congress to pass the bill with that language, which would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said this week that marijuana business banking represents one of the most “challenging issues that I have encountered” at the agency.

Read ABA’s letter to the Treasury and SBA below: 

ABA letter to SBA on PPP by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Federal Financial Regulatory Agency Head Says Marijuana Banking Among Most Challenging Issues

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Bermuda Government Releases Marijuana Legalization Bill For Public Feedback

Published

on

The government of Bermuda released a draft bill on Wednesday to establish a legal marijuana market in the self-governing British overseas territory.

“Surprising for some, public attitudes have evolved apace with global legislative reforms and in recognition that opening up pathways for new economic opportunities and activity is needed,” Attorney General Kathy Simmons said in a video on the proposal.

Under the proposed legislation, adults 21 and older would be able to possess and purchase up to seven grams of cannabis from licensed retailers.

A regulatory body called the Cannabis Advisory Authority would be responsible for issuing licenses and regulating the market. There would be seven types of licenses available: cultivation, retail, research, import, export, transportation and manufacturing.

Individuals with prior marijuana convictions would not be barred from participating in the industry.

Fees for the licenses would be set in a way designed to both stimulate the territory’s economy while also ensuring that they are not prohibitively expensive for “underserved and marginalized communities,” a summary of the bill states.

People with convictions for possessing seven grams or less would be eligible for expungement.

Last year, Bermudan lawmakers unveiled draft legislation to create a medical cannabis program. Public feedback signaled that people felt the bill imposed excessive regulations and that the territory should more broadly legalize marijuana altogether for adult use.

Now that this new draft legislation has been released, the government is again asking for public input up until July 3. On its site, individuals are prompted with seven specific questions that feedback is being sought on. That includes queries about licensing requirements and penalties.

Premier David Burt, who pledged last year to introduce marijuana legalization legislation, also encouraged individuals to weigh in on the proposed regulations.

“The Government has made a commitment to progressively liberalize cannabis laws in Bermuda and to create economic opportunities for citizens wishing to participate in a regulated cannabis scheme,” the site states. “The Government again wishes to ‘take it to the people’ by commencing a one month public consultation exercise on the proposed scheme.”

The attorney general said in her video that the government plans to “move ahead with a more simplified, regulated cannabis scheme, which builds on the strength of the original medicinal cannabis policy and which embraces the public feedback.”

“The revised proposal with provide for a regulated cannabis program which has been hybridized to meet Bermuda’s requirements while modeling the best available legal provisions in Canada, both provincial and federal, and to a lesser degree, examples from the Caribbean,” she said.

Several Caribbean nations have started exploring marijuana reform in recent years. Importantly, in 2018, the heads of 19 Caribbean nations agreed to “review marijuana’s current status with a view to reclassification,” emphasizing “human and religious rights” issues stemming from criminalization as well as “the economic benefits to be derived” from legalization.

Since then, lawmakers in the dual-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis said they would be introducing legalization legislation. The government of Trinidad and Tobago brought two cannabis reform bills before Parliament last year—one to decriminalize low-level possession and another to legalize cannabis for medical and religious purposes.

Meanwhile, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands has been stressing the need to legalize marijuana in order to generate tax revenue for the U.S. territory’s fiscal recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Jamaican government also recently announced that it will be allowing medical cannabis patients to make marijuana purchases online for pickup at “herb houses” as a means to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the draft bill to legalize marijuana in Bermuda below:

Bermuda marijuana legalizat… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Touts Legal Marijuana’s Economic Potential At Revenue Meeting

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!