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Senators Push Sessions To Stop Blocking Marijuana Cultivation Applications

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A bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, demanding answers about the status of applications to manufacture marijuana for research purposes.

The letter comes almost two years after the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) filed a notice calling on research institutions to submit applications to grow cannabis through an expanded federal research program. Since then, the DEA has received at least 26 applications—but the agency has yet to act on them.

Sessions has voiced support for expanding the number of institutions that are allowed to manufacture cannabis on at least two occasions. For nearly 50 years, only the University of Mississippi has been authorized to grow marijuana for federal research purposes, but the quality of the cannabis available to be studied has been subject to criticism from researchers.

Specifically, the relatively low concentrations of THC—and the absence of other important cannabinoids—present in the marijuana grown at the university has raised questions about the applicability of studies that rely its yield to real-world cannabis that consumers are buying at dispensaries or in the unregulated market.

The attorney general said at an earlier hearing that he felt it was important to diversify the federally sanctioned production of marijuana. And in April, he said reviews of applications to grow cannabis for research purposes were “moving forward.”

Sessions: Expanding Marijuana Cultivation For Research Is “Healthy”

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) signed the new letter addressed to Sessions, asking for an update on those applications.

The letter lists five questions the senators wanted answers to before an August 10 deadline, including a query about whether the Justice Department believes international drug treaties could impede expanding the pool of research cultivators:

  1. What is the currents status of the twenty-six marijuana manufacturer applications?
  2. What steps have both DEA and DOJ taken to review the twenty-six marijuana manufacturer applications currently pending?
  3. By what date do you estimate the DEA will have completed its review of the twenty-six marijuana applications and commence registration of new marijuana manufacturers?
  4. Please share DOJ’s analysis of the Single Convention and if the opinion of the Justice Department is the same or similar to that of DEA’s.
  5. If there are legal barriers to licensing multiple schedule I marijuana manufacturers under the Single Convention, please identify and explain them.

Perhaps the most surprising signatory of the letter is Grassley, who has consistently opposed bipartisan efforts to loosen federal restrictions on marijuana.

Senators Ask Sessions To Process Marijuana Research Applications by MarijuanaMoment on Scribd

“When Chuck Grassley is calling you out for being an obstacle to marijuana reform, you know you’re on the losing side of this issue,” Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Sessions needs to get his head out of the 1980s and advance these research applications.”

“His obstinacy on such a minor issue only serves to demonstrate how much of a zealot he is on this subject.”

The letter’s demand for answers on the status of the applications is meant to “prevent further delays” in the review process.

“Research and medical communities should have access to research-grade materials to answer questions around marijuana’s efficacy and potential impacts, both positive and adverse,” the senators wrote. “Finalizing the review of applications for marijuana manufacturing will assist in doing just that.”

In April, Hatch and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) sent Sessions a separate letter inquiring about the status of the cannabis research applications. There is no public indication that the attorney general replied by their requested May 15 deadline.

Federal Report On Marijuana Legalization Required Under New Bill

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Senate Votes To Send Hemp Legalization To President Trump’s Desk

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The Senate approved a far-reaching agriculture bill that includes a provision to legalize industrial hemp on Tuesday.

The vote gets the U.S. one step closer to ending its decades-long prohibition of a non-psychoactive plant in the cannabis family, empowering farmers to cultivate and sell a lucrative crop that can be used to create an exceptional range of products—from cosmetics to concrete.

The Senate and House Agriculture Committees had reconciled their respective versions of the 2018 Farm Bill last month, and lawmakers said they hoped to get it passed before the year’s end.

It seems Congress is positioned to meet that projection. The bill passed 87-13 in the Senate, and the House is expected to take it up soon. If the House approves the bill, it will be sent to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

While debate on the legislation extended over several months, it quickly became apparent that the hemp legalization provision had bipartisan support. Separately, a compromise was reached over a provision that would ban people with felony convictions from participating in the hemp industry. The ban would be lifted after 10 years under the current legislation.

Hemp would no longer be controlled by the Justice Department if it’s ultimately approved. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate the crop.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others cheered the inclusion of legal hemp in the Farm Bill.

You can read the full text of the hemp legalization provisions in the Farm Bill here.

Next House Agriculture Committee Chair Might Grow Hemp On His Farm

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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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Trump Threatens Government Shutdown, Raising Concern For Legal Marijuana Industry

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President Donald Trump is threatening to shut down the government if Democrats refuse billions of dollars in funding for a border wall—but the consequences of that action would extend far beyond border security.

If the president makes good on his promise to withhold his signature from essential appropriations bills this time, that could inadvertently leave the legal marijuana industry vulnerable to federal drug enforcement actions. A spending bill rider that has protected state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention since 2014 would expire, while the Justice Department and prosecutors would generally remain operational.

That’s because the Department of Justice has a contingency plan in place in the event of a government shutdown, and it exempts many employees, including U.S. attorneys and those who work for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from furlough.

“Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property,” the Justice Department explains in its contingency plan. U.S. attorneys are protected because they’re presidentially appointed and “are needed to address ongoing criminal matters and civil matters of urgency throughout the nation.”

“All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counternarcotics investigations,” the document says.

The so-called Rohrabacher-Farr amendment would not be exempted, though. The legislation—which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws—is part of the the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill. While five out of the 12 annual appropriation bills for Fiscal Year 2019 have already been signed into law by the president, the CJS bill is yet to receive House of Senate floor votes.

Typically, the deadline to get appropriations passed is the end of the preceding fiscal year, September 30. But rather than hold a vote or allow federal departments to lose funding, lawmakers have passed a series of continuing resolutions this year, providing temporary funding and pushing back the deadline. The most recent two-week continuing resolution passed on December 7, so the new deadline is December 21.

It lawmakers don’t pass, or President Trump doesn’t sign, either a full-year or temporary extension of funding by then, the medical cannabis rider will expire, but federal drug enforcement capabilities will not. And that would leave medical marijuana patients and the businesses that serve them in a dicey position.

Similar concerns about the prospect of federal marijuana enforcement have been repeatedly raised under the Trump administration. In January, things seemed especially precarious, as the president’s threat of a government shutdown came weeks after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement practices.

That decision stoked fears that a shutdown would empower the Justice Department to act on the attorney general’s vehement opposition to marijuana reform. But after fewer than three days, a continuing resolution passed and state-legal marijuana activities continued unimpeded.

This time around, as the deadline approaches, the Justice Department head is Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had served as Sessions’s chief of staff. Whitaker has said he sympathizes with medical cannabis patients, but he’s also criticized the Obama administration for its marijuana enforcement policies.

There’s no telling at this point whether Whitaker, the DEA or federal prosecutors would take advantage of broad exemptions from furlough and crack down on legal medical marijuana states in the event of a shutdown. But as always, the possibility puts the cannabis industry is an uncomfortable position.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

Photo 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.
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Lawmakers From Both Parties Celebrate Hemp Legalization In The Farm Bill

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Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are celebrating a hemp legalization provision that made it into the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Perhaps no one is more pleased than Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who fought for the provision over months of debate on the wide-ranging agriculture legislation. He even signed the conference report finalizing the bill language with a hemp pen on Monday.

In opening remarks from the Senate floor on Tuesday, McConnell said the inclusion of hemp legalization is “a victory for farmers and consumers throughout our country.” It builds on the progress of the hemp pilot program he helped put in the 2014 Farm Bill, the results of which he said “have been nothing short of extraordinary.”

“Now American-grown hemp can be found in your food, in your clothes and even in your car dashboard,” he said. “The results mean jobs, economic growth and new opportunity.”

“At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) helped McConnell secure hemp legalization in the agriculture legislation and said “the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country” in a press release Tuesday.

“Hemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America,” Wyden said. “Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.”

Fellow Oregon lawmaker Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) also cheered the “good news” that the provision made the cut.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) touted hemp legalization in a tweet Tuesday.

“The finish line is in sight,” Bennet wrote. “Now Congress needs to do what’s right for Colorado & send this bill to [President Trump’s] desk by the end of the year.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) celebrated the hemp provisions as well.

As did Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Lawmakers are hoping to put the Farm Bill to a full House and Senate vote and deliver the legislation to the president this week. McConnell said on Tuesday that members of Congress should be prepared to work through the holiday break to make sure this and other bills, including criminal justice reform and legislation to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2019, are seen all the way through.

Next House Agriculture Committee Chair Might Grow Hemp On His Farm

Via YouTube/Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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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