Almost everybody in Washington, D.C. loves hemp these days, it seems. And the support crosses party lines at a time when Republicans and Democrats agree on very little.
Days after the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly voted to approve a bill that includes provisions to finally legalize marijuana’s non-psychoactive cannabis cousin, the chamber’s top Republican and Democratic leaders are taking the time to visit home-state hemp facilities.
GOP Leader Mitch McConnell spent time on Thursday touring a Kentucky plant that processes hemp grown in accordance with the state’s federally sanction research program.
At Sunstrand in Louisville, where @SenateMajLdr and @KYAgCommish are looking at bales of Kentucky-grown hemp. Sen. Mitch McConnell shepherded a bill legalizing hemp in this year’s farm bill, passed by the Senate last week. pic.twitter.com/COc4PmA876
— Mark Vanderhoff (@WLKYMark) July 5, 2018
McConnell gets a demo of hemp separating machine, used to separate strands. pic.twitter.com/cvWjtxNoMy
— Thomas Novelly (@TomNovelly) July 5, 2018
On Tuesday, Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer visited hemp fields in upstate New York.
— Dave Lucas (@davelucas) July 3, 2018
“The federal government made a mistake when they labeled hemp as a controlled substance, putting it on par with dangerous substances like heroin. In reality, industrial hemp is an oyster with a pearl of opportunities that could mean millions in economic revenue while also helping to support new local jobs in Columbia, Greene, and Rensselaer counties,” Schumer said in a press release.
Earlier this year, McConnell introduced a standalone bill to legalize hemp that Schumer quickly joined as a cosponsor.
They and a broad group of bipartisan supporters succeeded in inserting the hemp provisions into broader agriculture and food policy legislation known as the Farm Bill, which the Senate passed by a vote of 86 – 11 last Thursday.
Despite the cannabis collaboration on hemp, however, the GOP leader isn’t ready to support Schumer’s broader bill to reform federal marijuana laws so that states can implement recreational legalization without federal interference.
“These are two entirely separate plants,” McConnell said when asked about the marijuana push. “There is a lot of confusion about what hemp is. It has an illicit cousin, which I choose not to embrace.”
In the meantime, hemp advocates are working to make sure the Senate’s Farm Bill legalization language survives the bicameral conference committee that will merge both chamber’s bills into a single proposal to send to President Trump’s desk. The House bill doesn’t have any provisions to allow hemp.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also toured a home-state hemp processing plant on Thursday.
Great meeting with hemp farmers and hemp business owners at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn. My bipartisan #HempFarmingAct will lift industrial hemp to new heights for Oregon farmers and benefit consumers everywhere. pic.twitter.com/6qpZl6SGzu
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) July 6, 2018
Hemp Legalization Is Officially Headed to President Trump’s Desk For Signature
The 2018 Farm Bill, which would legalize industrial hemp, is officially headed to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday, one day after the Senate approved it.
It’s been decades since the ban on hemp was imposed—a byproduct of the federal government’s war on marijuana and other drugs. The ban, it seems, will be lifted in a matter of days.
The House passed the bill, 369-47.
The votes come after months of debate over other aspects of the wide-ranging agriculture bill. But the hemp legalization provision, shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has received bipartisan support at every step of the legislative process.
Hemp legalization made it through a conference committee where the Senate and House Agriculture Committees reconciled their respective versions of the bill. McConnell marked the occasion this week by signing the conference report with a hemp pen, which he said on Wednesday that the president was free to use to sign the bill into law.
The hemp provision would allow U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell the crop. The Justice Department would no longer have jurisdiction over hemp under the legislation; rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate it.
One element of the hemp language created tension between lawmakers and advocates. The original Senate-passed bill prohibited people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry, but a compromise was reached last week that limited that ban in the final version to 10 years after the last offense.
House Democrats in the Agriculture Committee listed hemp legalization as one of several reasons they were calling for a “yes” vote on the legislation.
The farm bill conference report legalizes industrial hemp. pic.twitter.com/2u5xxtKwaS
— House Agriculture Committee Democrats (@HouseAgDems) December 12, 2018
According to VoteHemp, if the president signs the bill before the year’s end, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.
Marijuana Industry Border Issues Would Be Solved Under New Congressional Bill
Marijuana can really mess up border and immigration issues for people who partake in consumption or participate in the industry, but that would change if a new bill being introduced in Congress this week is enacted.
Under current U.S. laws, people who admit to past cannabis use or who work for or invest in marijuana businesses can be barred from visiting the country under certain circumstances. And marijuana consumption, even if it is legal under state law, can lead to an immigrant being deported.
The new legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections For Legal Entry Act, would provide exceptions for conduct that “was lawful in the State, Indian Tribe, or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or that was “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” according to a draft obtained by Marijuana Moment.
The bill, known as the MAPLE Act for short—surely a nod to the leaf on Canada’s flag—is being filed on Wednesday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
U.S. border policies on entry by marijuana industry participants were slightly loosened just ahead of the launch of Canada’s legal marijuana market in October to clarify that people working for cannabis businesses are generally admissible to the U.S., with the caveat that “if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”
And that’s a key exception. Several Canadians traveling to a cannabis industry conference in Las Vegas last month were detained for hours, with one investor being given a lifetime ban from visiting the U.S.
While there is almost certainly not enough time for Blumenauer’s proposal to be considered and voted on by the end of the year, its language could easily be adopted into new legislation after the 116th Congress is seated in January.
In October, the congressman laid out a plan for a step-by-step approach to federally legalizing marijuana in 2019 in a memo to fellow House Democrats.
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new MAPLE Act below:
Chicago Mayor Wants Legal Marijuana Revenue To Fund Pensions
Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales should be earmarked to fund pension programs, the mayor of Chicago said on Wednesday.
“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said in a speech to the City Council. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of the workers who depend on them.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil.