The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved an additional two state and three tribal hemp regulatory plans on Thursday.
Washington State, Wyomingm the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and the Santee Sioux Nation each had their plans approved—the latest in a series of approvals USDA has made since hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
This raises the total number of approved plans to eight for states and 10 for tribes. Last month, USDA approved hemp regulatory proposals from Texas, Nebraska and Delaware. Those for Louisiana, New Jersey and Ohio were the first the federal government signed off on in an earlier round of approvals.
“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes,” the department said in a notice about the latest actions.
USDA approved five #hemp production plans under the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program for Washington, Wyoming, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and the Santee Sioux Nation.
— USDA Ag Mktg Service (@USDA_AMS) February 20, 2020
Hemp is no longer a federally controlled substance, but farmers interested in cultivating and selling the crop must live in a jurisdiction where USDA has approved a proposed regulatory scheme. The process was outlined in an interim final rule USDA published late last year. If a state or tribe does not have, or plan to propose, its own regulations for hemp, cultivators can apply for a USDA license instead.
Lawmakers and industry stakeholders have widely celebrated USDA’s commitment to implementing hemp legalization, but the department also received a significant amount of pushback over proposed rules such as THC limits and laboratory testing requirements. A public comment period for the department’s interim rule saw more than 4,600 individuals and organizations weigh in requesting certain changes.
USDA said earlier this month that it is statutorily bound to keep certain provisions that stakeholders hoped would be amended, but they said there is some level of flexibility for other rules. It plans to open a second comment period after the current planting season ends and may make additional revisions.
The department maintains a website that tracks the status of state and tribal hemp plans.
On Wednesday, USDA released a report showing the rapid growth of the industry since federal prohibition was lifted. However, it also described a series of challenges that hemp farmers continue to face in the burgeoning market.
Meanwhile, the department said that hemp farmers can now apply for certain crop insurance programs to cover losses associated with natural disasters.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
Idaho Activists Suspend Campaign To Legalize Medical Marijuana Due To Coronavirus
A campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on Idaho’s November ballot announced on Thursday that it is suspending its signature collection efforts due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s the latest in a series of drug policy reform campaign cancellations in recent weeks. Activists across the country have been left virtually helpless to qualify measures as governments continue to impose restrictions on public gatherings, encourage social distancing and issue shelter-in-place orders amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Idaho Cannabis Coalition said that volunteers will no longer be conducting in-person signature gathering, and that will likely leave the campaign without enough signatures to make the ballot. They had to collect 55,057 by May 1 to qualify. Additionally, the state requires that initiatives receive signatures from six percent of registered voters from a majority of legislative districts.
What that means is “the odds are against Idahoans being able to vote on medical marijuana in November of 2020,” campaign spokesperson Russ Belville told Marijuana Moment in an email. He added that the effort has about 40,000 raw signatures in hand from the Boise/Nampa area but, due to the volunteer nature of the overall drive, he isn’t certain how many have been collected in other areas of the state.
Though while it appears advocates will be turning their attention to 2022, the current campaign isn’t entirely shutting down yet.
The email states that “we are now focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Belville added that the campaign is excited to see successes in other states such as Mississippi, where an initiative to legalize medical cannabis qualified, and South Dakota, where medical and recreational measures will appear on the ballot.
“[S]hould South Dakota pass its medical marijuana initiative, we are saddened by the thought that Idaho could then become the last political jurisdiction in all of North America to criminalize the possession and use any amount of THC by patients for medical purposes,” he said.
“Nevertheless, we will persist. If medical marijuana does not make the 2020 Idaho ballot, we will file immediately to begin the process of placing it on the 2022 ballot,” he added. “The need for medical marijuana access for sick and disabled Idahoans is not going away, and neither are we.”
Drug policy reform efforts across the U.S. are struggling amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Activists in California released a video last month asking officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said this week that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Illinois Stores Sold Nearly $36 Million Worth Of Recreational Marijuana In March, Despite Coronavirus
Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois marijuana shops sold almost $36 million in cannabis products in March, according to a report from the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation released on Thursday.
More than 812,000 adult-use marijuana products were sold in the 31-day period. While the majority of those sales ($27 million) came from in-state buyers, out-of-state visitors accounted for about $8.8 million.
By comparison, Illinois sold about $35 million worth of cannabis in February and nearly $40 million during its first month of sales in January.
“Three straight months of consistent adult use cannabis sales show there is—and will continue to be—strong support and demand from consumers,” Toi Hutchinson, the state’s cannabis czar, said in a press release.
The notice also talks about marijuana policies during the COVID-19 outbreak, which has shuttered non-essential businesses across Illinois and the country. Gov. J. B. Pritzker (D) signed an order deeming dispensaries and cultivation facilities essential services, and medical cannabis patients can obtain their products via curbside pickup, though that service is not available to recreational consumers.
Hutchinson said curbside pickup will continue to be available for patients through April 30.
As in past releases about monthly sales data, the new notice emphasizes that a portion of tax revenue generated through cannabis sales will go toward social equity and restorative justice programs.
The governor also signed an executive order that extends the deadline for applications to become a licensed cannabis infuser, craft grower or transporter. While the deadline was originally set for March 30, it’s been moved to April 30.
The information about out-of-state sales raises an interesting point—one that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) touched on during a recent press conference. Baker defended his decision to shut down recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) because he argued that it would encourage non-residents to travel into the state to get their cannabis, potentially spreading the virus.
Advocates have pushed back, however, arguing that shuttering those facilities means people will engage in similarly risky behavior by purchasing marijuana on the illicit market.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs
Eleven senators sent a letter to leadership in a key committee asking that they add a provision allowing marijuana businesses to access federal loan services in an upcoming annual spending bill.
In the letter, led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), the lawmakers told the Appropriations Committee that it should “include report language prohibiting the Small Business Administration (SBA) from denying loan applications” to cannabis firms as part of the fiscal year 2021 spending bill for Financial Services and General Government and Related Agencies.
“Over the last decade, there has been a clear shift in public opinion toward supporting the legalization of cannabis in the United States,” the letter, which was shared with Marijuana Moment, states.
While the number of legal marijuana states continues to grow, and those jurisdictions continue to collect millions of dollars in tax revenue, SBA policy prohibits participation in their programs by companies that directly or indirectly “aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis” by providing marijuana products or services.
“Consequently, small businesses in states with some form of legal cannabis must choose between remaining eligible for SBA loan programs, or doing business with a rapidly-growing and legal industry,” the senators wrote. “The SBA’s loan programs provide financial assistance in the form of loans and loan guarantees to small businesses who cannot easily access capital, which disproportionally impacts minority entrepreneurs.”
SBA services that marijuana companies should be eligible for include the Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program and Microloan Program, the group said.
The letter also notes that “most banks are reluctant to serve cannabis businesses due to conflicts with federal law, meaning that these businesses often are forced to operate using purely cash, creating an unsafe operation.”
“SBA loans would be especially helpful to cannabis small businesses because they would fill gaps left by the private sector. Access to these SBA loan programs could ensure that small businesses—especially those led by our minority, women, and veteran entrepreneurs—can raise money for their ventures and support job creation. We strongly support ensuring that SBA loan programs are made available to all cannabis small businesses.”
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) joined Rosen in signing the letter.
“In this time of crisis and unprecedented federal support for the economy, Congress should not allow all of the small and midsize cannabis businesses to be excluded by the SBA,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Be it in the appropriations package or the next round of stimulus, this is a common sense solution will help protect jobs in 33 states and provide much needed support to Main Street small businesses.”
In recent days, advocates have stepped up the push to include provisions for marijuana businesses in an upcoming fourth round of coronavirus relief legislation.
Rosen has paid close attention to the SBA restrictions for cannabis companies. She raised the issue during a hearing with an SBA official last year, pressing him about whether the agency has looked into the unique challenges that small businesses in the marijuana industry faces under the current policy.
SBA did confirm last week that cannabis companies do not qualify for disaster relief loans amid the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the agency has touted its work in support of hemp businesses following that crop’s legalization through the 2018 Farm Bill.
It remains to be seen whether any lawmakers will take up the industry’s call to insert language providing for marijuana industry relief in the next COVID-related stimulus bill.
A coalition of marijuana industry trade groups—including the National Cannabis Industry Association, National Cannabis Roundtable, Minority Cannabis Business Association and Cannabis Trade Federation—signed a joint letter last month, urging congressional leaders to lift restrictions and allow cannabis businesses to obtain the same relief as any other legitimate market.
Read the senators’ letter on federal aid for marijuana businesses below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.