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USDA Receives Hemp Legalization Feedback From States And Stakeholders

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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.

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.”

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’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.

USDA staff listen to webinar feedback from hemp stakeholders.

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.

Looking ahead

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.

The DEA Wants Help Differentiating Marijuana From Hemp

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists ‘Likely’ To Seek Signature Gathering Relief After Court Ruling

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A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is preparing to potentially collect signatures again, as they are likely to seek the same relief that a federal court recently granted a separate campaign that found its petitioning efforts crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

The judge said activists behind Reclaim Idaho, which is pushing an initiative on school funding, can start collecting signatures in-person and electronically for 48 days starting July 9. While the Idaho Cannabis Coalition wasn’t involved in that case, they feel the ruling will apply to them and they’re actively monitoring the situation.

“We are in the process of working with the local medical marijuana campaign to assess whether Judge Winmill’s order provides a route for the medical marijuana initiative to still qualify for the November ballot,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment.

“The medical marijuana campaign is similarly situated to the Reclaim Idaho campaign and will likely ask for a similar extension of time and permission to collect signatures electronically from the Secretary of State, and if necessary, from the District Court,” she said. “I don’t know the exact timeline as there are a number of moving pieces but it will be quick.”

On June 23, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the state two options: either allow electronic signature gathering for 48 days or simply place the Reclaim Idaho initiative on the ballot regardless of the signature requirement. The state chose neither and proceeded to request that the ruling be stayed.

The judge denied the state’s request to stay the order, so the signature gathering for the school funding campaign can proceed on July 9. The state has since filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to challenge the lower court’s ruling.

“The district court order severely and unquestionably disrupts Idaho’s election,” the state deputy attorney general wrote in the motion.

The deadline to submit 55,057 signatures to qualify the cannabis initiative passed on May 1, shortly after the group announced it was suspending petitioning activities because of the health crisis and the stay-at-home social distancing measures the state enacted. The cannabis campaign said it has about 45,000 raw signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.

Under the proposed measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.

While advocates say passing medical marijuana in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a victory for patients in its own right, it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently sitting in limbo in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.

Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.

Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators

Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.

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Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators

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Bad news for Oklahoma medical marijuana patients trying to beat the summer heat with a marijuana-infused slushy: State regulators say the icy beverages “are unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules” for cannabis products.

As the weather heats up, THC-infused slushy machines have been popping up at more and more Oklahoma dispensaries. Made by companies such as Glazees, which offers flavors such as watermelon and blue raspberry, the THC-infused drinks sell for about $12-$15.

But despite their popularity with some patients, regulators say the slushies fail to comply with a number of state rules, such as a requirement that products be packaged in child-resistant containers. Dispensaries themselves also “are not allowed to alter, package, or label products,” regulators said.

State rules further require that all medical marijuana products be tested in their final form. “In this instance, the finished product is the slushy mixture to be dispensed to patients/caregivers, not the syrup,” regulators said. “If water, ice, or any other substance is added to the product, additional testing is required to ensure the product is safe for consumption and final-product labeling is accurate.”

Regulators didn’t specify how adding water or ice to cannabis products could affect consumer safety, however.

The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) issued the update on Thursday in what it called a “slushy-machine guidance” memo. The office said it had received “multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries.”

The memo was silent, however, on the likelihood of enforcement. As of Friday morning, slushies still appeared on menus for some Oklahoma dispensaries.

It’s not the first obstacle encountered by Oklahoma marijuana businesses, which began popping up across the state voters passed a medical marijuana law in 2018.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a wide-ranging medical cannabis expansion bill, which would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary licenses, permitted licensed businesses to deliver marijuana to customers and eliminated jail time for for first-time possession convictions. But Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) then vetoed the bill, and lawmakers didn’t hold a vote to override the action.

Oklahoma activists also filed a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in December, but it’s unlikely the campaign can gather enough signatures to put the measure before voters this November. Their signature-gathering was largely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only last week did the state Supreme Court rule that the campaign could initiate petitioning. Supporters now have about 90 days to gather nearly 178,000 signatures from registered voters.

Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect

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Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect

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Only a day after a new marijuana decriminalization law took effect in Virginia, top state lawmakers are announcing that they’re already looking ahead to full legalization.

A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate a commercial cannabis market in the state. While the measure isn’t set to be filed until next year, lawmakers framed legalization as necessary in the fight for social and racial justice.

“Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said in a press release. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”

Other lawmakers backing the broader legalization push include Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D), as well as Del. Steve Heretick (D).

On Wednesday, the state’s new marijuana decriminalization policy took effect. The law, approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), removes criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Under the change, having up to an ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record.

Prior Virginia law punished simple marijuana possession with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a long-term criminal record.

“This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” Herring said of the new law, which she sponsored in the House of Delegates and Ebbin led in the Senate.

The decriminalization measure also contains a provision to study future legalization. It requires a bevy of executive agencies, including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security,” to convene an expert working group to study the matter. That panel’s report is due in November.

A separate legislative agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the impacts of possible legalization as the result of yet another resolution approved by lawmakers this year.

Lawmakers said on Thursday that the JLARC report, which is due in December, would inform how they shape legalization legislation they expect to file in 2021.

“Elements of the JLARC study include review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labelling recommendations, and measures to reduce illicit sales,” according to a press release from Ebbin’s office. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunity for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.”

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus doesn’t want to wait for the results of the two reviews, however, and is pushing fellow lawmakers to take up cannabis legalization during a special session in August. In addition, the caucus has said its members intend to file bills to implement automatic expungement, ban no-knock warrants, require courts to publish racial date on people charged with low-level offenses and enact other sweeping criminal justice reforms.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director for the legalization advocacy group NORML and executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, said the organization, which has worked with lawmakers on past reforms, looks forward to continuing to bring evidence-based cannabis policy to Virginia.

“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” Pedini said. “It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.”

Ebbin said that despite the meaningful step of decriminalization, the state still has a long way to go.

“Today Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has failed and the consequence of this failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it has not ended. It will only end when it is replaced by a regulated adult-use market that emphasizes equity—making whole those who have been burdened most by making sure they have a seat at the table and access to the marketplace. We are looking forward to doing the hard work needed to get this right.”

In the meantime, the Senate Democratic Caucus has announced it will pursue a bill during the special session next month to end law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, which critics say is a recipe for discriminatory enforcement. The group also noted that the chamber approved legislation during the regular legislative session that would have expunged certain marijuana charges and convictions, but that those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.

Austin Police Will Stop Marijuana Possession Arrests And Citations

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