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USDA Touts Hemp Industry’s Growth But Says Challenges Remain

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Hemp production in the U.S. has scaled up rapidly since lawmakers lifted federal prohibition of the crop, with more acres of hemp grown in the country today than at any point since the 1940s. But the fledgling industry is still very much in flux, and reporting practices that vary wildly from state to state have hampered efforts to fully understand it.

Those are the top-level takeaways of a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that explores the economic viability of the American hemp industry as the country transitions to a legal era.

After decades of prohibition due to hemp’s close relationship to its high-THC cannabis cousin marijuana, Congress in 2014 approved state-level pilot programs, allowing growers in certain states to produce and sell hemp as part of limited research initiatives. In 2018, lawmakers went further, ending federal hemp prohibition entirely. Since then, the sector has exploded.

Approved US producer hemp licenses 2014-2018

“Under the pilot programs, United States industrial hemp acreage reported by States increased from zero in 2013 to over 90,000 acres in 2018, the largest U.S. hemp acreage since the 146,200 acres planted in 1943,” the USDA study found. “By December 2019, hemp could be grown legally in every State except Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota.”

As of last year, more than 146,065 acres of planted hemp were reported to the agency.

The 83-page report, “Economic Viability of Industrial Hemp in the United States: A Review of State Pilot Programs,” attempts to draw conclusions about the legal, logistical and economic challenges that might arise as US farmers return to a crop that hasn’t been grown in the country for generations.

One of the biggest obstacles, the study shows, is keeping everyone on the same page.

“There is no systematic comprehensive data source regarding the emerging United States hemp industry or requirement to report a consistent set of data for the pilot programs,” noted the authors, who said they drew on annual reports, website information, internal USDA data, unstructured discussions with state agencies and other third-party information to compile the document.

“States collected data at various times and levels of aggregation,” the study says. “For example, some States report hemp data by intended end use (i.e., grain, fiber, cannabidiol (CBD) or other extracts) while others do not report data.”

US hemp acreage and greenhouses

Inconsistency between state requirements was one of the main obstacles highlighted by the report. USDA found that state-level hemp programs ran into a handful of common problems, starting with the difficulty of passing state-level legislation to regulate the new programs. Other problems arose in obtaining “critical production inputs,” such as seeds and insecticides, or in trying to easily distinguish industrial hemp from high-THC marijuana, which remains federally illegal.

A fundamental problem, the USDA report found, was “lack of basic data and information for decision-making”—something that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched a legislative hearing on cannabis.

Getting stakeholders involved early seemed to help smooth some wrinkles, the study found. In some states, authors wrote, “hemp legislation failed repeatedly, typically because of law enforcement concerns or lack of public support.”

“Colorado and Kentucky are two examples of States that included law enforcement stakeholders early when establishing their pilot programs,” the report notes. “This allowed an early basis for dialogue and shared knowledge.”

Data from state pilot programs also led analysts to conclude that while industrial hemp is a burgeoning industry in the U.S., it likely won’t emerge as a strong economic player in every state.

“As with other crops, it is not likely that hemp will be economically viable in every State,” the study concludes. “States that moved quickly to establish pilot programs were not leading producers of competing major field crops,” it found, and “growers are not likely to plant or process hemp if more profitable options exist.

Hemp-producing states could also run into competition internationally, the report says, acknowledging that the U.S. is one of many hemp-producing regions globally. “While the reintroduction of hemp production in the United States is relatively recent,” it says, “hemp production has already been legal in other parts of the world,” including Canada, Europe and China.

Canada hemp production

Under a recent trade deal with the U.S., China agreed to import more American-grown hemp and other agricultural products over the next two years.

For now, the rising tide of interest in hemp-derived CBD appears to be lifting all boats. “Global production was small and relatively stable until the recent worldwide interest in CBD oil,” the USDA study found. “There is some demand for hemp as a sustainable natural fiber, hemp seeds and protein as a food ingredient, and hemp extracts for cosmetics and food, but CBD oil has been the primary source of demand growth.”

Earlier this month, USDA officials said they won’t be able to comply with a request by farmers and some state lawmakers to increase the federal THC limit on industrial hemp, which is currently defined as cannabis that contains no more than 0.3 percent THC. Advocates had asked for that limit to be increased to 1 percent, but the agency said that’s a job for Congress.

They did, however, say that a new public comment period will be opened before hemp rules are finalized.

China Must Import More Hemp From U.S. Under New Trade Deal

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Banking Activity Increases In States That Legalize Marijuana, Study Finds

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While marijuana businesses often struggle to find banks that are willing to take them on as clients due to risks caused by the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis, a new study found that banking activity actually increases in states that legalize marijuana.

The research doesn’t make a direct connection between state-level marijuana reform and the increased activity, but it does strongly imply that there’s a relationship—even if the factors behind the trend aren’t exactly clear.

Researchers set out to investigate banking trends in states that have legalized cannabis, looking at bank regulatory filings with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) from 2011 to 2016. They found evidence that “banking activity (deposits and subsequent loans) increase considerably in legalizing states relative to non-legalizing states.”

That’s in spite of the fact that banks and credit unions run the risk of being penalized by federal regulators for working with businesses that deal with a federally controlled substance.

“While uncertainty can result in overly cautious behavior and hinder economic activity, we do not find evidence of this with cannabis laws and the banking industry,” the authors wrote in the new paper—titled, “THC and the FDIC: Implications of Cannabis Legalization for the Banking System.”

The study analyzed data from “150,566 bank-quarter observations from 6,932 unique banks located in 46 different states.” It found that deposits increased by an average range of 3.14-4.33 percent—and bank lending increased by 6.54-8.62 percent—post-legalization.

“Our results indicate that deposits and loans increased for banks after recreational cannabis legalization.”

Of course, it makes sense that legal states would see increased financial activity in the banking sector after opening a new market, even if only some banks choose to take the risk of working directly with cannabis businesses. The emerging marijuana industry also supports an array of ancillary firms and traditional companies that provide services to dispensaries and grow operations.

As of June 30, there were 706 financial institutions that had filed requisite reports saying they were actively serving cannabis clients. Thats up from 689 in the previous quarter but still down from a peak of 747 in late 2019.

But the question remains: why are some banks deciding to take on marijuana clients while others remain wary of federal repercussions?

The study authors—from the University of Arizona, Drexel University, San Diego State University and Scripps College—put forward two possibilities about why “the risk from regulatory uncertainty did not decrease banks’ willingness to accept deposits or make loans.”

The increase “may suggest that banks were either unconcerned about the potential risk associated with accepting cannabis related deposits or optimistic about the chances that regulations will adapt to the needs of legalizing states,” the paper reasons.

Confidence about working with a federally illegal industry may well have been bolstered in 2014 when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) under the Obama administration issued guidance to financial institutions on reporting requirements for cannabis-related businesses.

The second option, optimism about federal reform, also seems possible. It was around the time that the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was first introduced that there was a notable spike in financial institutions reporting that they have marijuana business clients.

In the years since, that legislation has been approved in some form five times in the U.S. House of Representatives, but it’s continued to stall in the Senate. In general, banks reporting marijuana accounts has remained relatively stable since 2019.

“Although many have speculated about the increased legal risks to banks, there is a lack of evidence for instances where banks are criminally prosecuted or lose their federally insured status,” the study states. “If these negative repercussions rarely happen, it makes sense that banks would not respond to the legislative uncertainty.”

“As more state regulators issue statements in support of banks and credit unions serving the cannabis industry, the financial institutions can become more optimistic about the chances that regulations will adapt in their favor with time,” the authors wrote.

Despite optimism for future reform that certain lawmakers have expressed, it doesn’t necessarily take the sting out of the latest failed attempt to secure protections for banks that choose to work with state-legal cannabis businesses as part of a large-scale defense bill.

A pro-reform Republican senator recently slammed Democrats for failing to advance marijuana banking reform despite having a congressional majority and control of the presidency.

For what it’s worth, the secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department recently said that freeing up banks to work with state-legal marijuana businesses would “of course” make the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) job of collecting taxes easier.

With respect to the SAFE Banking Act, a bipartisan coalition of two dozen governors recently implored congressional leaders to finally enact marijuana banking reform through the large-scale defense legislation.

A group of small marijuana business owners also recently made the case that the incremental banking policy change could actually help support social equity efforts.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a recent Marijuana Moment op-ed that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications now.

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

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Colorado Earned $423 Million In Marijuana Tax Revenue Last Year

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More than $12 billion in marijuana has been sold since legalization in 2014, with the state collecting over $2 billion in taxes.

By Robert Davis, The Center Square

Colorado brought in a record $423 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales last year, according to the latest market report from the state’s Department of Revenue (DOR).

In all, Colorado has sold more than $2 billion in marijuana through November 2021, making it the second consecutive year that the state has eclipsed that mark. In 2020, the state collected $387 million in taxes from the sales.

Colorado’s tax revenue total also implies that the state beat its previous record of $2.1 billion in sales, though DOR said it will release the final numbers next month.

More than $12 billion in marijuana has been sold since legalization in 2014, with the state collecting over $2 billion in taxes.

Colorado collects its marijuana taxes from a 2.9 percent state sales tax on marijuana sold in stores, a 15percent state retail marijuana sales tax and a 15 percent retail marijuana excise tax on wholesale sales and transfers of marijuana. The state also collects fee revenue from marijuana license and application fees.

In December, Colorado collected more than $30 million in taxes, capping off a five-month streak of declining tax revenue.

The state also recorded more than $158 million in sales in November, with both medical and recreational marijuana showing significant declines in sales.

Colorado sold $131 million in recreational marijuana in November, an 11 percent drop when compared to October.

Similarly, November’s medical marijuana sales totaled $26 million, representing a drop of more than 10 percent on a month-over-month basis.

The story was first published by The Center Square.

Delaware Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill With Key Equity Revisions

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Arizona Hits Recreational Marijuana Sales Record, With New Program Catching Up To Medical

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Medical cannabis sales eclipsed recreational from February through October—adult-use sales began on January 22—but in November, those numbers were almost identical.

By David Abbott, Arizona Mirror

Arizona cannabis sales continued on an upward trajectory in 2021, with the Arizona Department of Revenue reporting more than $1.23 billion in combined cannabis sales through the first 11 months of the year.

In November, adult-use recreational cannabis sales hit a new peak and crossed $60 million for the first time. Medical sales have fluctuated throughout the year, topping out at about $73 million in March and April.

Medical sales eclipsed recreational from February through October—adult-use sales began on January 22—but in November, those numbers were almost identical, with the medical program bringing in an estimated $60,365,545, while recreational sales reached $60,299,191.

In October, estimated cannabis sales for both programs were within $7 million of each other, the first time recreational sales came within $10 million of medical sales. But the adult-use market is in its infancy and is expected to match the medical program’s economic heft within a few years.

Cannabis sales also provided a solid tax contribution in 2021.

TAXABLE Sales (Estimated) to date
PERIOD COVERED ADULT USE‐420 MEDICAL‐ 203 EXCISE TAX
Jan‐21 $7,370,460 $42,140,608 $11,391,371
Feb‐21 $32,697,512 $55,320,625 $39,246,992
Mar‐21 $51,628,266 $72,934,129 $55,808,898
Apr‐21 $54,037,990 $72,944,477 $58,954,469
May‐21 $52,843,171 $70,158,567 $59,372,157
Jun‐21 $50,943,017 $64,854,708 $56,749,799
Jul‐21 $54,324,542 $70,880,576 $58,740,337
Aug-21 $51,877,656 $65,492,643 $57,675,654
Sep-21 $52,450,298 $62,704,561 $57,663,164
Oct-21 $59,508,253 $65,415,461 $62,446,719
Nov-21 $60,299,191 $60,365,545 $63,187,702
Dec-21 $20,922 $591,294 $0
$528,001,278 $703,803,194 $581,237,261

The state collects 16 percent excise tax on recreational sales in addition to the standard sales tax; medical patients pay a 6 percent excise tax. Local jurisdictions charge an additional 2 percent or so for all marijuana sales.

Taxes collected in November for recreational cannabis sales were $5,055,950, with medical slightly less at $5,026,317. The excise tax reached $10,110,032 for a total of $20,192,299 in tax revenue from November marijuana sales.

Proposition 207, which voters approved in 2020 to legalize adult use of cannabis, included specific uses for taxes collected on the recreational side. One-third is dedicated to community college and provisional community college districts; 31 percent to public safety—police, fire departments, fire districts, first responders—25 percent to the Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund and 10 percent to the justice reinvestment fund, dedicated to providing public health services, counseling, job training and other social services for communities that have been adversely affected and disproportionately impacted by marijuana arrests and criminalization.

The state collected a total of $196,447,570 in tax revenue the first 11 months of 2021 from cannabis sales, with $44,533,436 from recreational, $58,916,172 from medical and $92,997,962 from the excise tax.

This story was first published by Arizona Mirror.

Florida Marijuana Activists Pivot To 2024 For Legalization Ballot Initiative

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