On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave stakeholders in the nation’s hemp economy an opportunity to provide input on rules to legally regulate the crop that are currently being developed.
Hemp, which was federally legalized as part of the 2018 Farm Bill signed by President Trump in December, had previously been restricted by the Justice Department as a controlled substance. Now USDA has primary responsibility for overseeing legal cultivation of marijuana’s non-psychoactive cannabis cousin.
But the agency is still in the process of establishing a set of regulations covering areas such as land use, certification, product testing and disposal of hemp containing excess THC. After those federal rules are in place, USDA will begin reviewing proposed hemp plans submitted by state agriculture departments.
Officials from at least seven state governments and a number of Indian tribes gave testimony during the roughly three-hour online feedback session, which was occasionally interrupted by technical difficulties, as did several hemp industry operators.
We didn’t miss the chance to chime in on the first USDA Hemp webinar this afternoon. Kentucky’s hemp program is a national leader and we are fortunate to assist @USDA in implementing the 2018 Farm Bill hemp legalization provisions. pic.twitter.com/pySeg7eb0f
— Ryan Quarles (@RyanQuarlesKY) March 13, 2019
All told, more than 3,000 people tuned in to the webinar to hear three-minute presentations from some 50 scheduled speakers.
The stakeholders registered concerns about testing procedures for hemp, shipping parts of the plant and its derivatives between states, access to banking and hemp’s relation to its still-Schedule-I counterpart, marijuana.
States speak up
After the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law, Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles headed to Washington, D.C. to personally deliver to USDA a plan to regulate hemp, making his state the first to take formal action under the new federal legalization provisions.
“We don’t know if it can replace tobacco,” Quarles said during Wednesday’s event. “But we know it’s becoming part of our greater agriculture portfolio.”
I was proud to participate in a hemp webinar hosted by @USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. I spoke specifically about the need for USDA and FDA to work w/ states on bank lending, the regulation of CBD, & developing uniform testing standards across the nation. #KyAg365 pic.twitter.com/lwFWD46Kft
— Commissioner Quarles (@KYAgCommish) March 13, 2019
The Kentucky Agriculture Department received more than 1,000 applications to participate this year in the state’s limited industrial hemp research pilot program that is authorized under the prior 2014 Farm Bill.
As Kentucky looks toward broader industrialization, Quarles said the state is particularly concerned about hemp farmers’ access to banking.
“These farmers and companies need access to capital just like any other farmer or agri-business,” he said.
Quarles also called for guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Congress about what the federal government plans to do about CBD and other derivatives of industrial hemp—an area of focus for Kentucky’s hemp program.
“If the FDA regulates too hard against CBD, it would really harm small Kentucky family farms,” he said. “We’ve got to develop rules that allow our farmers an opportunity to continue supporting this crop and benefitting economically from it, especially during a period of depressed farm cash receipts.”
Sara Walling, an administrator at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, oversees the department where the state’s hemp program resides. She said the application period for growing hemp in the 2019 season yielded 1,461 grower applications and 711 processor applications under the state’s research program.
She described the Badger State’s relation to hemp as “enthusiastic and energetic” but said there is still some confusion among state regulators about how to proceed.
We talked to the USDA today about what we'd like to see in federal rules for industrial hemp programs. Testing and finances were uppermost in our minds. Read more at https://t.co/MNA8xEUQAP. pic.twitter.com/fClANxxb1q
— Wisconsin DATCP (@widatcp) March 13, 2019
“We’re optimistic about the future of hemp as an agricultural crop but we’re in a chicken-and-the-egg process: Which comes first, processing or production?” she said.
Regulatory and legislative officials from Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota and Pennsylvania also provided testimony.
Tribal officials weigh in
At least six representatives from groups of indigenous people described their visions for a regulated and equitable industrial hemp program. Angie Kennedy, of the Seneca Nation of Indians, sought clarification on how tribes and sovereign nations can participate in the 2019 planting season. The 2018 Farm Bill allows continued planting of hemp under the earlier 2014 legislation’s research provisions.
“But the 2014 Farm Bill, it does not allow that [tribes] can grow under those requirements,” she said. “When the USDA comes out with the regulations, it’ll be too late for this farming season.”
That concern was echoed in other speakers’ remarks as well.
Ben Fenner, an attorney with Fredericks, Peebles & Morgan LLP, spoke on behalf of the tribal attorney for the Flandro Sanchi Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. Fenner said that as more hemp is cultivated, tribes cannot afford to miss out on access the market.
“Delaying this out to 2020 or beyond is going to hurt tribes,” he said.
Supply chain concerns
Wednesday’s listening session also included testimony from groups that transport hemp and related products, along with vendors that sell the goods.
Federal regulations for interstate transportation of hemp have not yet been issued and, while the federal agriculture legislation covers the whole nation, hemp production and processing is still illegal under the laws of some states.
Collin Mooney is the executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which represents the local, provincial, state and territorial agencies responsible for commercial motor vehicle enforcement throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
“States will need to make the necessary regulatory changes and to make officials aware of those changes,” Mooney said.
Aside from changing the legal status of hemp, Mooney said the roadside enforcement community would face other challenges. While industrial hemp is defined federally as cannabis that is comprised of 0.3 percent or less of THC, it can look and smell similar to marijuana, and available field kits only demonstrate whether THC is present in a sample, regardless of the concentration.
“Since the state drug labs that can make this distinction already have a backlog of work, this can lead to unavoidable delays in traffic stops and maybe even mistaken arrests,” Mooney said.
Regardless of the legal challenges of transporting hemp and hemp products, Peter Matz of the Food Marketing Institute, a lobbying group that represents grocery stores and pharmacies around the country, said the demand for these products is “already pretty staggering, and we know that it’s growing.”
“The fact remains that our members are seeking clarity on everything—which kinds of products can be sold and where, as well as the labeling requirements, as well as sourcing and transporting the ingredients,” he said.
Until USDA’s rules are formalized, hemp farmers are still able to grow under their respective state’s hemp research pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said last month that his agency is working to create the new regulatory framework by the 2020 growing season.
“We’re proceeding very judiciously obviously because of the uniqueness of the crop hemp and its relationship to other crops that we’re not encouraging. It’s complex,” he told the House Agriculture Committee.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, outgoing head of the FDA announced that his agency will hold a similar listening session next month to discuss plans for regulating hemp-derived CBD. FDA is considering pathways to allow cannabis and its derivatives in food and dietary supplements and to permit those products to be marketed and transported between states.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party
In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.
But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.
That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”
Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.
That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.
Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.
A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 8, 2019
Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.
Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:
Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.
Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.
Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.
In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”
Is it time for #DecriminalizeNature #Berkeley? Agenda 4 at the public safety meeting this Wed. July 17, with the Decriminalize Nature team! This is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend. But if you live in Berkeley, write your City Council! https://t.co/gMSDkegMPU
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 15, 2019
However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”
The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”
Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.
The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.
“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.
While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.
Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.
Nature lovers are organizing coast to coast (and Hawaii)! Is your city on the map? Connect to join with your local community, or if you have the motivation to propose a similar initiative in your city/town/county, let’s start growing! contact [email protected] #DNUSA pic.twitter.com/38UxLKK9RN
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 2, 2019
On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.
Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”