The U.S. Senate, without objection from any lawmaker of either party, adopted legislation on Tuesday recognizing “the growing economic potential of industrial hemp” as well as its “historical relevance.”
The resolution, which was passed to commemorate “Hemp History Week,” also decries the fact that “the United States is the largest consumer of hemp products in the world, but the United States is the only major industrialized country that restricts hemp farming.”
“Despite the legitimate uses of hemp, many agricultural producers of the United States are prohibited under current law from growing hemp,” the measure reads. “Because most hemp cannot be grown legally in the United States, raw hemp material and hemp products are imported for sale in the United States.”
While this is the third year in a row that the Senate has adopted a nonbinding resolution recognizing the value of hemp without actually legalizing it, indications this year point to the strong possibility that Congress will finally take action to change the crop’s status under federal law.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, recently introduced a bill to legalize hemp, which already has nearly a third of senators signed on as cosponsors.
The GOP leader also said that he intends to attach his hemp language to the larger Farm Bill that is expected to move through Congress soon.
House Republicans blocked an effort to add hemp legalization to that chamber’s version of the broad food and agriculture legislation, but if the hemp provision is successfully inserted into the Senate bill, it stands a good chance of reaching President Trump’s desk.
Previously, McConnell succeeded in attaching language authorizing state industrial hemp research programs into the version of the Farm Bill that was enacted in 2014.
But while he is among the foremost champions for hemp in all of Congress, the Kentucky Republican is no fan of legalizing its cannabis cousin, marijuana. “These are two entirely separate plants,” he said in a press conference last month.
On Tuesday, it was the majority leader himself who moved that the Senate adopt the resolution designating June 4-10 as Hemp History Week. No senators objected, and it was approved within a matter of seconds.
“Industrial hemp is an agricultural commodity that has been used for centuries to produce many innovative industrial and consumer products, including soap, fabric, textiles, construction materials, clothing, paper, cosmetics, food, and beverages,” the resolution states. “Industrial hemp holds great potential to bolster the agricultural economy of the United States.”
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and cosponsored by McConnell, along with Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), notes that “the value of hemp imported into the United States for use in the production of other retail products is estimated at approximately $76,000,000 annually.”
It also cites projections that the annual market value of hemp retail sales in the U.S. is worth more than $688 million.
“We applaud Leader McConnell and Senator Wyden for acknowledging the fast growing hemp industry during Hemp History Week,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said in an email. “Their resolution highlights the need to pass the Hemp Farming Act and remove barriers facing farmers and businesses.”
Last month, a key Senate committee set aside half a million dollars to support the restoration of a federal hemp seed genebank, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sent an internal directive instructing agents not to go after legal hemp products.
The senators sponsoring the hemp resolution approved on Tuesday each issued statements about it:
“It’s long overdue that we reverse the misguided ban on growing hemp in the United States and recognize the realities of science and the economy in the 21st Century. Removing the commonsense-defying restrictions on the domestic growth of hemp will unlock hemp’s full potential to bolster American agriculture, create good-paying jobs and support our economy. I’m going to keep working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make it legal once again to grow hemp in this country, by passing our Hemp Farming Act into law.”
“Since Kentucky’s earliest days, industrial hemp has played a foundational role in our agricultural history and economy. With our Hemp Farming Act of 2018, I believe that hemp can also be an important part of our future. Removing hemp from the federal list of controlled substances will give our farm communities the opportunity to explore the potential of this versatile crop. I am proud to join with farmers, processors and manufacturers across Kentucky to celebrate Hemp History Week as we work together on the plant’s growing future.”
“Industrial hemp has had a long and productive history in the U.S., and it’s time to revive that history now for the 21st Century. Outdated policies should not stand in the way of our American farmers growing a crop that is already used to make products sold all across the U.S.”
“I am pleased to see the Senate acknowledge hemp’s historical importance by passing our resolution to declare this ‘Hemp History Week,’ and I urge the Senate to take the next step by passing our Hemp Farming Act. It’s time for our farmers to be free to fully compete in this industry on the world stage and to reverse an outdated prohibition that has held back Kentucky’s economy.”
Photo by Brendan Cleak.
Congress Votes To Block Feds From Enforcing Marijuana Laws In Legal States
The House of Representatives approved a far-reaching measure on Thursday to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state marijuana laws, including those allowing recreational use, cultivation and sales.
The amendment, which also shields cannabis laws in Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories, is now attached to a large-scale appropriations bill to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Watch Live: Congressional Committee Discusses Medical Marijuana And Military Veterans
A congressional committee held a hearing on four bills that concern veterans and medical marijuana on Thursday.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee discussed one piece of legislation that would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue medical cannabis recommendations in states where it’s legal. That bill was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
The panel also took up a bill sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) that would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of cannabis in the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
“The men and women that I meet back home vouch for the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis and support further research into the issue,” Correa said in testimony prepared for the hearing. “The legislation provides a framework for that research to ensure a scientifically-sound study on the issue.”
“Cannabis must be objectively researched. Period,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the committee, said in support of the legislation. “Medicinal cannabis may have the potential to manage chronic pain better than opioids and treat PTSD.”
Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), ranking member on the committee, agreed that VA should be studying the therapeutic potential of cannabis for veterans but complained that the proposed bill is excessively prescriptive. The congressman, who introduced a similar piece of legislation in January, said lawmakers shouldn’t “be telling the scientists how to design their studies.”
Other legislation that came up for consideration was a bill from Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a 2020 presidential candidate, that would provide training on medical cannabis for VA health practitioners.
Finally, the committee heard testimony on another Moulton proposal that would require VA to conduct a survey to “measure cannabis use by veterans.”
Watch the hearing below:
Witnesses who testified before the committee include Adrian Atizado, deputy national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Travis Horr, director of government affairs with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Carlos Fuentes, director of national legislative service for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
The VFW representative said the organization supports all but one of the cannabis bills. While the group agrees with the intent of allowing VA doctors to recommend cannabis, it “believe it is unacceptable for VA providers to recommend a treatment that they are unable to provide veterans and force patients to pay for the full cost of such care.”
"VA must expand research on the efficacy of non-traditional alternatives to opioids, such as medicinal cannabis and other holistic approaches. " #VFWTestimony
— VFW National HQ (@VFWHQ) June 20, 2019
DAV voiced support for legislation requiring VA to study medical cannabis and also to survey veterans on their marijuana usage.
“DAV supports @DeptVetAffairs research on conditions related to military service and effective treatments to help #veterans recover, rehabilitate and improve the overall quality of their lives…many veterans report the use of medicinal #cannabis for these purposes is beneficial.” pic.twitter.com/29C9WCw0Di
— DAV National HQ (@DAVHQ) June 20, 2019
And IAVA came out in strong support for the research bill. In testimony, the group said that “without research done by VA surrounding cannabis, veterans will not have conclusive answers to ways cannabis might aide their health needs. This is unacceptable.”
“VA houses some of the most innovative and best-in-class research this country has to offer. It should not be shutting its doors on a potentially effective treatment option because of politics and stigma,” the group said. “Our nation’s veterans deserve better.”
Larry Mole, chief consultant of population health services at the federal Veterans Health Administration, testified that VA opposes all four of the cannabis bills.
He expressed concerns that VA doctors would be penalized if they recommend medical cannabis, that the research requirement would be excessively onerous and that VA is already studying marijuana, that VA doctors already have access to training materials on the subject and that the proposed anonymous survey would require veterans to disclose information that could make them identifiable.
“The legislation would prescriptively define how the surveys would be conducted, but it does not provide the purpose, goals, or objectives for the surveys,” he said. “We have significant concerns that veterans will not want to participate, despite the survey being anonymous.”
Several committee members pressed Mole on VA’s current research efforts, noting the widespread support among veterans to study the medicinal benefits of marijuana.
Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) said that he meets with veteran constituents each week and asked the VA representative, “[w]hat am I to tell them when they ask when is this [research] actually going to happen?”
“When is this research going to occur? When is the VA going to listen to the 92 percent of veterans across all political stripes and ideologies that want to see this done?” he said.
Mole pointed to the single ongoing VA clinical trial that just recently recruited its first participant focusing on the benefits of CBD for post-traumatic stress disorder. He encouraged Levin to tell his constituents to look up the study and apply to participate if they were interested.
Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) characterized the VA’s study as “a baby steps approach” to the issue given that CBD alone isn’t representative of the products that veterans are using in the commercial market.
After the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on several of the cannabis proposals in April, the full committee was set to vote on two marijuana measures last month. That hearing was cancelled, however.
Blumenauer is also pursuing cannabis reform for veterans through a different vehicle: an appropriations bill that’s being debated on the House floor this and next week. He introduced an amendment that would prohibit VA from “interfering with a veteran’s participation in a state medical cannabis program, denying a veteran who participates in a state medical cannabis program from being denied VA services, and interfering with the ability of VA health care providers to recommend participation in state medical cannabis programs.”
This was the second congressional committee hearing on marijuana-related issues this week. On Wednesday, the House Small Business Committee met to discuss challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the emerging cannabis industry.
This story has been updated to include additional testimony from witnesses.
House Passes Amendments Stripping DEA Funding And Pushing FDA To Regulate CBD
Two drug policy amendments cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday, building on reform victories in the chamber the day before.
One measure addresses funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the other would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish regulations for adding CBD to foods and dietary supplements.
The first amendment, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), would transfer $5 million from the DEA to an opioid treatment program. It passed without opposition on a voice vote and is now be attached to the House version of a large-scale spending bill, but it remains to be seen how the Senate will set funding levels for the agency in its own version of the funding legislation.
“I offer this amendment because ending the war on drugs has to mean changing our priorities in order to keep all communities safe and healthy,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The best way we do that is by offering people the help and support they need before arrest and criminalization should be considered in the first place.”
She added that the DEA is still receiving $2.36 billion in funding, which is $90 million higher than was appropriated for the last fiscal year. It’s also about $78 million higher than President Trump requested in his budget.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that handles Justice Department funding, rose in support of the amendment, stating that opioids “are a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of our communities, and we must do everything we can to combat this epidemic.”
Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment that the successful vote “should send a message to the DEA—it’s not business as usual anymore.”
“We want to end the drug war and we will fight for it. We will drain you dollar-by-dollar, cent-by-cent, if that’s what it takes,” he said.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) claimed time designated for the opposition on the floor but said he supports the amendment. The congressman did note, however, that funding for opioid abuse prevention grants has increased by 360 percent since 2017 and that “we want to work with both sides to make sure we have the appropriate funds necessary to make sure we fight this opioid addiction that has taken over so many parts of the country.”
In closing, Ocasio-Cortez said “just as the epidemic is exploding so should our commitment to address this problem.”
“We have overfunded one agency and we should move that to make sure that we are getting people the care they need,” she said.
Dan Riffle, senior counsel and policy advisor in Ocasio-Cortez’s office told Marijuana Moment that the amendment is “a good start, but it’s not enough.”
“Every dollar we waste trying and failing to reduce supply is a dollar that should be spent on treatment and demand reduction,” he said.
This is the second drug policy amendment the freshman congresswoman has introduced that’s been brought to the House floor. However, her earlier proposal, which was meant to lift barriers to research for psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA, was rejected when it came up for a vote as part of separate appropriations legislation last week.
The FDA amendment, introduced by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), was approved as part of an en bloc voice vote combining other relatively noncontroversial measures and it did not receive debate on the floor. The measure aims to resolve a problem that the FDA has repeatedly raised since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
Because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and has never been allowed in the food supply before, the agency’s former commissioner said Congress may have to pass separate legislation to provide for its lawful marketing.
The amendment’s description directs FDA to “undertake a process to make lawful a safe level for conventional foods and dietary supplements containing cannabidiol (CBD) so long as the products are compliant with all other FDA rules and regulations.”
Two other drug policy amendments were debated in the chamber on Wednesday. A measure that would block the Justice Department from using its funds to intervene in state marijuana laws was approved on a voice vote but still needs to pass in a recorded vote; another that extends similar protections to tribal cannabis programs passed without a request for a recorded vote.
This story was updated to include comment from Riffle.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.