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Top Senate Democrat Pushes USDA To Delay Hemp Rules Until 2022

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The top Democrat in the Senate is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to delay issuing final regulations for hemp until 2022, citing stakeholder concerns and the challenges of state compliance that have arisen due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday that hemp farmers should be able to continue to operate under a regulatory pilot program established under the 2014 Farm Bill so that the department can hear feedback on interim rules for its broader program for the crop and make adjustments.

Hemp and its derivatives were broadly federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, and USDA has since approved numerous state, territory and tribal plans—most recently for Maryland and an Indian tribe last week. But industry representatives, as well as lawmakers, have made the case that certain proposals could kneecap the burgeoning market.

“When it comes to an industry as promising as industrial hemp in Upstate New York, the feds must do everything they can to nurture its potential,” Schumer said. “Regulating this rapidly-emerging industry is a must, but the timing of new regulations is important and the current economic crisis must be considered.”

As it stands, the earlier 2014 pilot program is set to expire on October 31. The minority leader isn’t alone in requesting an extension; state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA this week.

Schumer said in a press release that he’s “urging USDA to delay their issuance of a final rule until 2022 so the hemp industry across the country and in Upstate New York has a chance to grow and create good-paying jobs at a time when jobs are needed the most” and that delaying the regulations “will help pull New York along in the recovery process as the nation deals with the impacts of the pandemic.”

In the letter to Perdue, the Democratic leader said that New York hemp farmers “have experienced serious difficulty integrating the Interim Final Rules into their operations.”

“Particularly in the current COVID climate, I see many farmers and processors in New York struggle with incorporating these changes into the existing state Pilot Programs,” he wrote. “In a time when farmers and producers struggle with economic uncertainty, the implementation of the Interim Final Rules will create costs without the support of offsetting revenues.”

“The Interim Final Rules provide a first step in developing regulations for the hemp industry. The critiques from the comment period will provide USDA with areas to consider revisions that further encourage economic opportunity for farmers and producers. However, COVID creates hurdles for states and producers to comply with the Interim Final Rules. Under the circumstances, the Interim Final Rules will harm the very businesses we hoped to help with this new agricultural commodity. We can easily remedy this situation by delaying implementation until January 2022 and allow states to continue under the 2014 Farm Bill until then. This will allow USDA to address some of the more pressing regulatory critiques while giving states and producers additional time to come into compliance.”

Schumer said that he fears rushing implementation of the final rule for hemp could exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we move into harvest season, farmers will need to operate with as much certainty as possible but timing and testing requirements will likely create bottlenecks that will push farmers to rush harvests,” he wrote. “The potential for greater numbers of people working in facilities to meet the rush may create opportunities for COVID to spread among farm workers.”

Two senators representing Oregon recently expressed concerns with the secretary that USDA appears positioned to reinstate two particular provisions of its interim final rule that stakeholders view as especially problematic. Those concern requirements, which the department temporarily suspended enforcement of, that labs that test hemp be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration and that law enforcement be involved in disposal of the crop if it contains excess THC.

“We applaud Leader Schumer for this letter and his continued leadership on hemp issues,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment. “We look forward to continuing to work with his staff and our other allies on Capitol Hill to delay implementation of regulations that impose significant burdens on hemp farmers who are already struggling with price declines and COVID responses.”

Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, said in Schumer’s press release that the “costs and bureaucracy of implementing the new rules as written create unnecessary financial burdens on farmers and our state agencies.”

“The existing hemp pilot program has been sufficient in making sure farmers are complaint with all testing and public safety protocols,” he said. “We would like to see the pilot program extended until 2022 and the USDA modify the program to let hemp become a widespread agricultural commodity like Congress intended by the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.”

As it stands, 23 states have indicated to USDA that they intend to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill as the deadline for its expiration looms.

Read the full letter from Schumer to the USDA head below: 

“Dear Secretary Perdue,

I write in regard to deep concerns that USDA’s U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program Interim Final Rules will hinder the advancement of the hemp industry and create significant compliance costs both for State Governments and producers. Despite these concerns being reflected in the numerous comments submitted on behalf of industry trade groups, businesses, and State Agriculture Departments during the extended public comment period, no significant changes were made. As you know, the 2018 Farm Bill removed federal regulatory restrictions from industrial hemp production, manufacturing, and sales with the intent of developing a new agricultural commodity for United States farmers. The timing of implementation of the Interim Final Rules, especially during the COVID crisis, will create extreme disruption in this nascent industry. I ask that you delay the issuance of a final rule until January 2022 and allow states to continue to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill pilot program authority until then.

In New York, the industrial hemp industry has started to grow significantly, with new farms and businesses emerging and existing ones expanding operations. This has brought considerably better paying jobs and revenue to Upstate New York, making industrial hemp a critical new part of the state’s agricultural future. However, as industrial hemp farmers and businesses explore the full benefits of the 2018 Farm Bill, they have experienced serious difficulty integrating the Interim Final Rules into their operations. Particularly in the current COVID climate, I see many farmers and processors in New York struggle with incorporating these changes into the existing state Pilot Programs. In a time when farmers and producers struggle with economic uncertainty, the implementation of the Interim Final Rules will create costs without the support of offsetting revenues. USDA calculated compliance costs for reporting alone of $17,363.40 with testing adding approximately an additional $714.50 per sample (see 7 CFR Part 990, 58537 and 58545).

These costs do not just impact businesses across the United States but also state budgets that must alter their Pilot Programs to meet the demands of the Interim Final Rules. With bandwidth completely consumed by COVID concerns, the state regulatory agencies cannot focus on implementation of the Interim Final Rules. At this point, only 19 states have approved plans in place and enforcement efforts will deal a significant economic blow to the industry.

Lastly, I have concerns that the Interim Final Rules will potentially create public health issues in our current COVID environment. As we move into harvest season, farmers will need to operate with as much certainty as possible but timing and testing requirements will likely create bottlenecks that will push farmers to rush harvests. The potential for greater numbers of people working in facilities to meet the rush may create opportunities for COVID to spread among farm workers.

The Interim Final Rules provide a first step in developing regulations for the hemp industry. The critiques from the comment period will provide USDA with areas to consider revisions that further encourage economic opportunity for farmers and producers. However, COVID creates hurdles for states and producers to comply with the Interim Final Rules. Under the circumstances, the Interim Final Rules will harm the very businesses we hoped to help with this new agricultural commodity. We can easily remedy this situation by delaying implementation until January 2022 and allow states to continue under the 2014 Farm Bill until then. This will allow USDA to address some of the more pressing regulatory critiques while giving states and producers additional time to come into compliance.

Once again, I appreciate your efforts to help establish guidelines to develop a thriving American hemp industry. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and please let me know if I can be of any assistance.”

USDA Approves Hemp Plan For Maryland And One More Indian Tribe

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.

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

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American Medical Association Asks Mississippi Voters To Reject Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative

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A medical marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on Mississippi’s November ballot is being targeted by two medical associations that are pushing voters to reject the policy change.

With weeks left until the vote, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) are circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject the activist-led measure. For supporters and opponents alike, the way the ballot is structured can be confusing—a product of the legislature approving an alternative that appears alongside Initiative 65.

“The purpose is to defeat Initiative 65. Initiative 65A will allow the legislature to enact changes to the law, which would not be possible with Initiative 65,” the opposition campaign document states. “MSMA is asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”

Via MSMA.

This marks the latest obstacle that reform advocates are facing as they work to inform the electorate about how to fill out the ballot to pass their proposal. Despite polls that show support for medical cannabis legalization at 81 percent in Mississippi, opponents aren’t acquiescing to public opinion.

MSMA President Mark Horne told WLBT-TV last week that the organization was asked to review the initiative and that “it was immediately clear that this is an effort focused on generating profits for an industry that has no ties to the medical or health care community in Mississippi.”

But according to Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), that talking point has only recently been aired and the campaign didn’t receive that feedback until MSMA mounted this opposition push. She told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the group’s steering committee is composed of several physicians who also had a hand in drafting the measure’s language—and that includes doctors who are part of MSMA.

“Ultimately, it boils down to patients being able to have access to this through their physician. They need to be able to have that conversation with them,” she said. “If certain physicians don’t see a benefit to that, that’s fine. But lots of other physicians do, and that’s evidenced undeniably in the 34 other states with medical marijuana programs where patients are receiving relief.”

AMA President Susan Bailey argued that “amending a state constitution to legalize an unproven drug is the wrong approach,” adding that there are concerns about youth exposure and impaired driving.

That said, a scientific journal published by AMA has printed research showing the advantages of broad marijuana legalization, however, with one recent study showing that people in states where recreational cannabis is legal were significantly less likely to experience vaping-related lung injuries than those in states where it is prohibited.

The organization has long maintained an opposition to legalization but has called for a review of marijuana’s restrictive federal Schedule I status.

Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA for comment, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.

If the Mississippi campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve posed an additional threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.

Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat

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Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat

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Nebraska activists on Monday announced they are filing a new medical marijuana ballot initiative after an earlier version got shot down by the state Supreme Court this month.

The previous proposal had already collected enough signatures from voters and qualified for this November’s ballot, but a local sheriff filed a challenge, arguing that it violated the state’s single-subject rule that prohibits measures that deal with multiple issues. The secretary of state’s office rejected that claim, but the case went to court and a majority of justices ultimately ruled that the proposal would be removed from the ballot.

While advocates are disappointed that the state won’t have the opportunity to enact the policy change this year, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana didn’t waste any time putting together a new initiative that they feel will pass the single-subject test and appear on the 2022 ballot.

Language of the new proposal simply states: “Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.”

Of course, that simplified text might satisfy the ballot policy, but it leaves an open questions about what—if any—regulated market would provide people with access to cannabis. It also doesn’t define eligibility, so that right to marijuana would appear to be unrestricted as long as person purports to use it for therapeutic reasons.

Those questions, if they remain unanswered by the campaign, could prove to be a sticking point for voters who would otherwise support regulated access to medical cannabis but might be uncomfortable with what could be a “free-for-all” situation that opponents have locked activists into with the single-subject challenge.

That said, the advocacy group says it plans to follow up the new simple constitutional amendment with “trailing statutory initiatives to set up a safe and secure medical cannabis system in Nebraska” if lawmakers fail to pass any medical marijuana  legislation over the next year. That’s similar to how casino gaming supporters are pursuing their issue with companion constitutional and statutory ballot measures.

Under this year’s blocked initiative, physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then have been allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.

Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D), cochairs of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, have tried for years to pass medical cannabis bills in the legislature only to be blocked by opposition from leadership.

Now, between the Supreme Court defeat and legislative inaction, they’re charting a new path.

“Families with loved ones suffering from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and cancer have fought for years to make medical cannabis safely accessible in our state as it is in 33 other states,” Wishart said in a press release. “This year over 190,000 Nebraskans successfully petitioned our government during a pandemic for that right, and despite receiving qualification from the Secretary of State, our initiative was removed from the ballot by a 5-2 vote from Nebraska’s Supreme Court. We will not give up and intend to bring this fight to the legislature in January with a bill that I will introduce and to the ballot in 2022.”

Morfeld added that the “new petition language indisputably presents a single subject and makes medical cannabis a constitutional right.”

“Then following with several statutory initiatives, we will establish a safe and regulated medical cannabis system,” he said. “Nebraskans have a constitutional right to petition their government, and we will not stop until they can exercise their right and have their voices heard on medical cannabis.”

While the timing isn’t ideal as far as advocates are concerned, given that presidential election years are typically targeted by cannabis reform supporters because of relatively larger turnout by supporters as compared to midterm cycles, 2022 is the next option they’re left with. That said, it’s possible that the continuing momentum for reform via the ballot could spur legislators to take up the issue in the meantime.

For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion last year that efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

New Jersey Marijuana Campaign Launches First Ad As Poll Shows Support For Legalization Referendum

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Top Illinois And Michigan Officials Give Marijuana Legalization Advice To Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor

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The lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan recently gave their counterpart in Pennsylvania some advice on how to approach marijuana legalization in his state.

At a virtual forum on Thursday, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) put several questions to Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton (D) and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D), asking for tips on how to navigate the policy change as legislators in his state consider his push to enact a legal cannabis system.

“What I hope that Pennsylvania can learn from Michigan is that you can do it right. You do not have to piecemeal this together,” Gilchrist said.

“When you do it in the right way, it sets you up to create the systems and infrastructure to truly support people as this comes online, to create opportunities for those who have been oppressed and cut out of opportunity because they’ve been incarcerated or criminalized in the system to be able to participate in the potential prosperity that adult-use cannabis can create for communities in a full and robust and inclusive way,” he said.

Fetterman said that, from his perspective, Illinois is “the gold standard of legalizing recreational cannabis” because of how it intentionally approached restorative justice and social equity through reform legislation.

Because Pennsylvania doesn’t have a process through which citizens can put initiatives on the ballot, he said he was especially interested in how Illinois crafted an effective cannabis system legislatively.


“We had looked at other states and what was happening in other states, when we did our homework, we realized that really none of the other states had really kind of approached this legislation or their efforts—I think we were the first to do it by legislation—with an intentional lens of equity,” Stratton, who purchased cannabis gummies at a dispensary on the state’s first day of legal sales, said. “As all of us know, if you’re not intentional about equity, it just doesn’t happen because of the systems and the systemic racism that we’ve talked about. It does not happen that you just end up with equity.”

“We are working towards making sure that those individuals that were from many of the communities most harmed by the war on drugs could have real opportunity. We’re working towards that,” she said. “We are repairing the harm of what generations of bad policy—including, again, the war on drugs—has done to these communities that are disproportionately black and brown.”

Stratton also emphasized that, under her state’s marijuana model, 25 percent of cannabis tax revenue goes toward restorative justice grants for disadvantaged communities. She also noted that Illinois has been consistently “breaking records with sales,” even during the coronavirus pandemic. That said, there have been some snags in implementing an equitable model of cannabis business licensing in the state, with several lawsuits filed over the results of a recent application scoring round.

Gilchrist jumped in to offer Fetterman another tip as Pennsylvania navigates through legalization legislation.

“There’s another element that I want to discuss that that perhaps is something that you should think about in Pennsylvania, and that is that kind of—I won’t call it consensus building per se—but that kind of real and robust and muscular set of community conversations and involvement in the design of implementation is really important,” he said.

He said it’s important to ensure that there’s “accessibility” to enter the industry and remove barriers that keep people from participating.

“You don’t want people to be designed out of these opportunities,” he said. “And sometimes that can happen, both unintentionally and intentionally.”

Fetterman ended the event by reflecting on the increasing bipartisan support around legalization, and both of his guests agreed that their experiences demonstrated as much.

He and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) have been regularly talking about the policy change in recent weeks. At a marijuana reform rally earlier this month, for example, both officials discussed their support for legalization and the need to stand up Pennsylvania’s market as more surrounding states pursue legal cannabis models.

Also this month, Wolf took a shot at the GOP-controlled legislature for failing to get the job done. He also floated the idea of passing a bill that would allow the state itself to sell the cannabis to consumers.

While Wolf initially opposed adult-use legalization, he came out in support of the policy change last year after Fetterman led a statewide listening tour last year to solicit public input on the issue.

Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the reform, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Marijuana Election Has Already Started: Here’s What You Need To Know About Early Voting And Registration Deadlines

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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