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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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Sixth Minnesota House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill On Its Path To The Floor

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota is going through a thorough vetting process, with a sixth House committee on Wednesday giving the reform proposal a green light following a hearing.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

Days after a separate panel approved the legislation with amendments, the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee passed it in a 9-7 vote.

“The purpose of House File 600 is to eliminate the harm that cannabis has in our society,” Winkler said of the bill at the hearing. “The primary harm that cannabis poses in Minnesota is the prohibition and criminal enforcement of cannabis.”

“The goal of House File 600 is to shift in a legal marketplace that is policed and over-policed disproportionately and instead to create a policy of repair, an opportunity for those most adversely affected by the war on drugs,” he said.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee was the last body to approve the bill, on Monday, and members there adopted a number of changes to the proposal. For example, it now stipulates that members of a cannabis advisory council established under the bill could not serve as lobbyists while on the panel and for two years after they end their service.

Before that hearing, the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee each advanced the measure.

Its next stop is the State Government Finance and Elections Committee.

Winkler recently said that he expects the legislation to go through any remaining panels by the end of April, with a floor vote anticipated in May.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

After the New York legislature approved a recreational cannabis legalization bill—which the governor promptly signed into law—Winkler said that Minnesota is “falling behind a national movement towards progress.”

“MN has some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the country, and legalizing cannabis & expunging convictions is a first step towards fixing that,” he tweeted.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen.

The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Closer To Floor Vote With House Committee Action

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Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Closer To Floor Vote With House Committee Action

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An Alabama House committee on Wednesday amended a medical marijuana legalization bill that already passed the Senate. Members also took public testimony in advance of an expected Thursday vote to send the revised legislation to the House floor.

This hearing of the House Health Committee comes one week after a separate panel in the body amended and cleared the bill.

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the legislation would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The full Senate approved the bill last month.

“I just want to take [cannabis] to the patients that need it. I want to see people get relief,” the senator said at the meeting. He also made the case that allowing legal access can mitigate opioid overdose deaths.

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored similar legislation that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without any House votes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal would establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers.

The House Judiciary Committee approved 10 amendments to the legislation during last week’s hearing. For example, members agreed to scrap provisions providing reciprocity for out-of-state patients and reducing the percentage of marijuana tax revenue that would go to cannabis research from 30 to 15 percent.

Those amendments were integrated into a new substitute version of the bill adopted by the Health panel, with additional revisions such as removing anxiety and adding depression and Parkinson’s disease as qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. The committee voted to accept the substitute version for consideration before going into testimony.

Time was evenly divided between supporters and opponents. By and large, the conversation revolved around personal anecdotes about the medical benefits and risks of marijuana.

More amendments were added following the testimony. One change would add an annual registration fee for physicians who recommend cannabis. Another would give the state attorney general’s office access to a patient registry database.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Members further approved an amendment to remove fibromyalgia and menopause from the list of qualifying conditions and another to expand the number of institutions that are eligible for grants to research marijuana. A revision to develop a uniform flavor for all cannabis products was also accepted.

Additionally, an amendment was approved to require dispensaries to have 24-hour security cameras operating in their facilities. These changes are all being added to a new substitute that the panel will take up and vote on Thursday.

Because the proposal has been amended, it would go back to the Senate for final consideration if it’s passed in the House before being sent to the governor’s desk.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, advocates say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the Senate floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved in the Senate would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction has been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

There could be additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

Separately, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill last month to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, making it punishable by a $250 fine without the threat of jail time.

Majority Of Connecticut Residents Back Marijuana Legalization And Expungements, Poll Finds As Reform Bills Advance

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Former Gov. Rick Perry Urges Texas Lawmakers To Pass Psychedelics Study Bill

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“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” Perry said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Rick Perry, in a rare return to policy debates in Austin, is teaming up with a Democratic state lawmaker to push for psychedelic drug therapy for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The former Republican governor is throwing his support behind a bill by state Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, that calls for a clinical study of psilocybin—the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”—to treat PTSD in veterans.

“To me, this may be one of the most hopeful pieces of legislation that the members of the Legislature have the opportunity to consider this session,” Perry said in an interview Tuesday.

Some studies have suggested that psilocybin could be safe and effective in treating mental health disorders like depression, while calling for larger studies with more thorough methods.

Perry said he has “historically been a very anti-drug person” and still firmly opposes legalization for recreational uses. However, he said he has seen through his longtime advocacy for veterans how psychedelic drugs can provide relief to former service members who have exhausted other options — and are traveling to other countries, like Mexico, to receive treatment.

“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” Perry said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

Perry is set to join Dominguez for a news conference on his proposal Wednesday morning at the state Capitol. The news conference will also be attended by veterans that Perry has gotten close to over the years, including retired Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell and Dakota Meyer, a Marine veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.

Dominguez’s House Bill 1802 would direct the Health and Human Services Commission to conduct the clinical study of psilocybin in partnership with a health sciences university and a Veterans Affairs hospital. The proposal would also ask HHSC to do a literature review—a survey of prior studies—of using not just psilocybin but also MDMA and ketamine to treat PTSD in veterans.

HHSC would have to submit quarterly progress reports on its study, and it would have a deadline of Dec. 1, 2024, to deliver final findings to the the so-called “Big Three”—the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker—as well as members in both chambers.

The bill was referred to the House Public Health Committee last month but has not received a hearing yet.

Texas has largely avoided loosening its drug laws in recent years as a growing number of states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The state has legalized marijuana with limited levels of THC—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes people feel high—for people with certain debilitating illnesses, but eligibility is limited and relatively few people have signed up.

Noting the influence that the Big Three could have if they get behind a proposal, Perry said he’s talked with the offices of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and that the speaker’s office has been briefed on it. He added that he is hoping that Republicans can “get comfortable [that], ‘Hey, this is not some recreational drug thing,'” but a life-changing treatment for veterans when handled carefully.

Dominguez said in an interview that he has found that colleagues on both sides of the aisle are “very supportive” of studying the issue.

“I think in general we’re supportive of veterans issues and certainly there’s maybe a generational discussion to be had… But I found most members want to hear the science,” Dominguez said, emphasizing the study would go through a “controlled process” and that there would be “a number of safeguards in place to make sure that nobody abuses this and we learn the efficacy.”

The lawmaker said his interest in the issue comes from his time as a prosecutor in Cameron County, which set up a veterans treatment court in 2014.

Perry has largely stayed out of state legislative matters since leaving office in 2015, unsuccessfully running for president in 2016 and then joining former President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as energy secretary. He stepped down as energy secretary in late 2019.

But Perry is not unfamiliar with the Legislature, though, and particularly the House. He served there from 1985 to 1991—first as a Democrat and then as a Republican.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

With State Law Against Drug Possession Overturned, Washington Governor Frees 15 People From Prison

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