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.
Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances One Step In South Dakota
South Dakota’s attorney general filed an official explanation of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana on Friday.
While separate organizations are working to get a medical cannabis-focused initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot, activists behind this measure are hoping to incorporate recreational legalization, medical marijuana reform and hemp into one package.
Adult-use legalization would be accomplished through a constitutional amendment under the initiative, which would separately require the legislature to pass legislation creating rules for medical cannabis and hemp.
South Dakota Attorney General releases explanation on proposed constitutional amendment to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana; to require passage of laws regarding hemp as well as laws regarding marijuana for medical use. Read it here: https://t.co/k33buSKjIJ pic.twitter.com/pEG0RxbDj9
— SD Attorney General (@SDAttorneyGen) August 16, 2019
“The constitutional amendment legalizes the possession, use, transport, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia by people age 21 and older. Individuals may possess or distribute one ounce or less of marijuana,” Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) wrote. “Marijuana plants and marijuana produced from those plants may also be possessed under certain conditions.”
The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be responsible for issuing licenses for cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers. Individual jurisdictions would be able to opt out of allowing such facilities in their areas.
“The Department must enact rules to implement and enforce this amendment,” the explanation states. “The amendment requires the Legislature to pass laws regarding medical use of marijuana. The amendment does not legalize hemp; it requires the Legislature to pass laws regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp.”
The initiative calls for a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales. That revenue would be used to fund the Department of Revenue’s implementation and regulation of the legal cannabis system, with remaining tax dollars going toward public education and the state general fund.
Ravnsborg said that judicial clarification of the amendment “may be necessary” and notes that marijuana “remains illegal under Federal law.”
The attorney general issued a similar explanation of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis earlier this month.
This latest move comes one day after advocacy organization New Approach South Dakota announced that their medical marijuana initiative was certified, enabling them to begin the signature gathering process.
Several other cannabis initiatives are in the process of being certified in the state, according to the attorney general’s website. In order to place constitutional amendments on the ballot, activists must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters.
South Dakota is one of the last remaining states in the U.S. that has not legalized marijuana for any purposes.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Elizabeth Warren’s Plan For Indian Tribes Includes Marijuana Legalization
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled a plan on Friday that’s aimed at holding the federal government accountable for following through on its obligations to Native American tribes, and that includes ensuring that tribal marijuana programs are protected against federal intervention.
The plan emphasized Warren’s support for a bill she filed earlier this year that “would protect cannabis laws and policies that tribal nations adopted for themselves.”
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who has faced criticism over claims of Native American heritage, pointed to federal reports showing that tribal programs generally have not received adequate funding and said it is imperative that legislation be enacted to “provide resources for housing, education, health care, self-determination, and public safety” for those communities.
To that end, Warren is planning to introduce a bill called the “Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act” alongside Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. Before filing, however, the lawmakers are soliciting input on how best to draft the legislation, and are accepting written testimony until September 30.
While the proposed legislation itself doesn’t currently include marijuana-specific provisions, a press release and blog post on the topic address the senator’s sponsorship of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would allow tribal communities and states to set their own cannabis policies without Justice Department interference.
In order to provide economic opportunities to Native people, that “requires streamlining and removing unnecessary administrative barriers that impede economic growth on Tribal lands, respecting tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses, and promoting forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new and emerging economic opportunities.”
“For example, while not every tribe is interested in the economic opportunities associated with changing laws around marijuana, a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important opportunity for economic development,” Warren’s campaign blog post states.
“I support full marijuana legalization, and have also introduced and worked on a bipartisan basis to advance the STATES Act, a proposal that would at a minimum safeguard the ability of states, territories, and Tribal Nations, to make their own marijuana policies,” she wrote.
.@RepDebHaaland & I invite feedback about this proposal & look forward to working closely with tribal nations & citizens, experts, & other stakeholders to advance legislation in Congress that honors the United States’ promises to Native peoples. https://t.co/qc1fkBGb3I
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 16, 2019
A separate press release on Warren’s Senate website also touts her support for the STATES Act, saying she “worked hard to ensure” that it included tribal protections.
“It’s beyond time to make good on America’s responsibilities to Native peoples, and that is why I’m working with Congresswoman Haaland to draft legislation that will ensure the federal government lives up to its obligations and will empower tribal governments to address the needs of their citizens,” Warren said of the overall tribal plan. “We look forward to working closely with tribal nations to advance legislation that honors the United States’ promises to Native peoples.”
In an email blast to her campaign list, Warren included “a set of additional ideas to uphold the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations with Tribal Nations and to empower Native communities,” which includes her marijuana proposal:
“New economic opportunities: We also need to respect tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses and promote forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new economic opportunities. For example, a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important economic opportunity. I support full marijuana legalization and have advanced the STATES Act, a proposal that would safeguard the ability of Tribal Nations to make their own marijuana policies.”
There’s increased interest in ensuring that Native populations receive the same benefits and protections as states as it concerns cannabis legislation.
In June, the House passed a spending bill that included a rider stipulating that Native American marijuana programs couldn’t be infringed upon by the Justice Department. And a GOP representative filed a bill in March that would provide similar protections.
FBI Seeks Tips On Marijuana Industry Corruption
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is actively seeking tips on public corruption related to the marijuana industry, it announced on Thursday.
“States require licenses to grow and sell the drug—opening the possibility for public officials to become susceptible to bribes in exchange for those licenses,” FBI Public Affairs Specialist Mollie Halpern said on a short podcast the bureau released. “The corruption is more prevalent in western states where the licensing is decentralized—meaning the level of corruption can span from the highest to the lowest level of public officials.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)