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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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Amazon Reaffirms Support For Marijuana Legalization And Says Former Workers Punished Over Cannabis Are Eligible For Employment

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Amazon is reaffirming its support for federal marijuana legalization, and it disclosed on Tuesday that its earlier decision to end drug testing for cannabis will also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.

The company’s move to end marijuana drug testing for many positions in June was widely celebrated by reform advocates and industry stakeholders. But at the time, Amazon only talked about ending the policy going forward.

In a new blog post, Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources, clarified that it has also “reinstated the employment eligibility for former employees and applicants who were previously terminated or deferred during random or pre-employment marijuana screenings.”

The reason for the move away from marijuana testing is multifaceted, Amazon said. The growing state-level legalization movement has made it “difficult to implement an equitable, consistent, and national pre-employment marijuana testing program,” data shows that drug testing “disproportionately impacts people of color and acts as a barrier to employment” and ending the requirement will widen the company’s applicant pool.

That said, unlike in its June announcement, Amazon’s new update places an emphasis on ending “pre-employment” drug testing for cannabis. It used broader language before, announcing that it will “no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program.”

Amazon also reiterated that it would like to see Congress pass legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition. It cited the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) as examples of bills that it supports.

For the latter legislation—which is being sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—Amazon participated in a public comment period and submitted feedback that it shared with lawmakers in the new blog post.

“We believe the time has come for reform of the nation’s cannabis policy and we are committed to helping lead the effort,” the company said in a letter to the senators. “As your bill would achieve similar objectives, we are pleased to endorse the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act as currently drafted.”

Amazon said it specifically supports key provisions to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge prior cannabis convictions and use some marijuana tax revenue for community reinvestment.

Curiously, the letter also says “we have refrained from commenting on areas where we do not have a particular view, including regulation, permitting, taxation, and interstate commerce.”

It’s that last point that raises some eyebrows, as it stands to reason that any policy on interstate cannabis commerce would be of interest to a business that delivers products across the U.S. and presumably has the infrastructure to expand its delivery services into the marijuana industry when prohibition ends.

“We are proud to largely end pre-employment testing of marijuana as a condition of employment. And we are enthused by the notable momentum in the country toward recognizing that today’s status quo is unfair and untenable,” Amazon concluded. “We are eager to work with you to secure passage of this legislation.”

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Arizona Marijuana Tax Revenue Exceeds $20 Million In August, State Reports

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Arizona collected more than $20 million in medical and adult-use marijuana tax revenue in August, data released by the state this week shows.

Medical cannabis taxes were slightly higher at $6,388,816 last month, compared to $4,542,166 collected from the recreational market, according to the Department of Revenue. The state also took in an additional $9,515,016 from the marijuana excise tax.

However, these figures are preliminary and may change, as some businesses could need additional time to send in data.

July’s cannabis tax revenue was slightly higher compared to August, with the state taking in about $400,000 more in the prior month.

While medical cannabis taxes are still outpacing those from the adult-use market, that gap has been generally been narrowing in the months since recreational sales first launched in January. That’s a trend that’s been observed across numerous states after adult-use marijuana is legalized.

However, Arizona’s medical marijuana market is well-established, and some industry experts don’t necessarily expect recreational sales to overtake the medical program for some time.

Overall cannabis tax revenue from January through August totaled $115,701,426, according to the data the Department of Revenue is reporting so far.

Other states are also seeing a windfall in marijuana tax dollars as more markets mature and sales continue to increase.

For example, Maine recreational marijuana sales broke another record in August, exceeding $10 million for the first time since the adult-use market launched in October 2020.

Adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois exceeded $120 million in August, state officials recently reported. It’s the second highest sales record since the state’s recreational market launched last year and the sixth month in a row that sales surpassed $100 million.

Massachusetts marijuana sales have topped $2 billion since the state’s adult-use market launched in late 2018, the Cannabis Control Commission reported last week.

California collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, state officials estimated last month. That’s 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the prior fiscal year.

A recent scientific analysis of sales data in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State found that marijuana purchases “have increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”

In July alone, at least three states saw record-breaking sales for recreational cannabis. The same goes for Missouri’s medical marijuana program.

Michigan marijuana sales broke another record in July with more than $171 million in cannabis transactions, according to data from the state’s regulatory body. There were $128 million in adult-use sales and $43 million in medical cannabis purchases.

Throughout the pandemic, many states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open—with governors and regulators in several markets declaring marijuana businesses to be essential services—and some jurisdictions issued emergency rules allowing curbside pickup, delivery services or other more relaxed policies in order to facilitate social distancing.

California Smokable Hemp Bill Heads To Governor, While Measure On Cannabis Use In Hospitals Advances

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.
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Maine Marijuana Sales Broke Another Record In August, Exceeding $10 Million For First Time

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Maine recreational marijuana sales broke another record in August, exceeding $10 million for the first time since the adult-use market launched in October 2020.

The state’s Office of Marijuana Policy reported that the state’s 53 adult-use cannabis shops brought in about $10.2 million in marijuana purchases last month. And that translates into about $1 million in tax revenue for the state, which has a population of just 1.3 million.

By comparison, Maine cannabis sales for recreational consumers amounted to just $1.1 million during the first month of retail sales less than a year ago. That record has been broken each subsequent month.

While August proved to be a record-breaking month for marijuana purchases—with 133,969 sales transactions—it’s only slightly higher compared to July, when the state saw about $9.4 million in adult-use purchases. Those figures don’e include medical cannabis sales, which are tracked separately.

Via Maine Office of Marijuana Policy.

According to the Portland Press Herald, regulators have credited summer tourism for the sales spike.

But in general, states across the U.S. have seen similar trends over recent years. And marijuana sales records have been consistently broken over the past year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois exceeded $120 million in August, state officials recently reported. It’s the second highest sales record since the state’s recreational market launched last year and the sixth month in a row that sales surpassed $100 million.

Arizona brought in about $21 million in medical and adult-use marijuana tax revenue in July, state officials recently reported on a new webpage that enables people to more easily track how the industry is evolving.

California collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, state officials estimated last month. That’s 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the prior fiscal year.

A recent scientific analysis of sales data in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State found that marijuana purchases “have increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”

In July alone, at least three states saw record-breaking sales for recreational cannabis. The same goes for Missouri’s medical marijuana program.

Michigan marijuana sales broke another record in July with more than $171 million in cannabis transactions, according to data from the state’s regulatory body. There were $128 million in adult-use sales and $43 million in medical cannabis purchases.

Throughout the pandemic, many states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open—with governors and regulators in several markets declaring marijuana businesses to be essential services—and some jurisdictions issued emergency rules allowing curbside pickup, delivery services or other more relaxed policies in order to facilitate social distancing.

Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Lead To Increased Youth Use, American Medical Association Study Finds

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