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Federal Officials Give Hemp Legalization Update At Senate Hearing

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The Senate Agriculture Committee heard from federal agencies about efforts to implement the legalization of hemp at a hearing on Thursday.

In the months since the crop and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers and industry stakeholders have made repeated calls to expedite the development of regulations providing for the lawful marketing of hemp products.

The panel requested updates to that end from invited witnesses, which included representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) said the hearing was meant to provide “certainty and predictability for farmers” and that “this developing industry has great opportunity but—to be truthful—also has much uncertainty and risk for farmers.”

“There are complex questions in this space. Is hemp the crop of a generation? What will this industry look like in 10 years?” he said. “I do not know the answers to these questions, and I am not sure if anyone actually can answer them.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the committee’s ranking member, discussed the history of hemp in the United States, calling it a “new, old crop” that is part of a “great American tradition.”

Noting that founding fathers like George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson all grew hemp, she joked that “maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda will make his next musical about that,” referring to the “Hamilton” creator.

“We also need to ensure that these new opportunities in hemp production are fair and equitable for all farmers,” she said on a more serious note. “Given the USDA’s troubling history of discrimination, the Department must be proactive to ensure socially-disadvantaged farmers have the same opportunity to get a license to grow hemp. It’s also critical that there is fair testing and enforcement of harvested hemp across the board.”

Witnesses on the first panel at the hearing included USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner of Food and Drugs Amy Abernethy and EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Assistant Administrator Alexandra Dunn.

The second panel consisted of National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki and Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish.

Watch the hearing below:

Thursday’s hearing marks the second congressional cannabis-related meeting of the week after the Senate Banking Committee convened on Tuesday to discuss banking issues in the broader marijuana industry.

Even after hemp’s legalization, lawmakers and industry participants have raised concerns about ongoing problems accessing financial services businesses involved with the crop and its derivatives, some of which have said they’ve been denied credit lines and insurance policies due to a lack of guidance from federal regulators. That issue also came into play during Thursday’s hearing.

While few GOP senators attended the week’s earlier marijuana-focused meeting, hemp has garnered strong bipartisan support and this hearing reflected that shared political interest. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been a particularly vocal proponent of the crop, shepherding his hemp legalization provision to passage as part of the large-scale agriculture legislation that was signed by President Donald Trump in December.

McConnell made an appearance and said that he’s “glad” the crop is “making a comeback, and it’s generated incredible excitement all across my state.” He noted that it is being grown in 101 out of 120 counties in Kentucky.

“This product is incredible—from food to clothing to wellness products, what a diversified product,” he said, adding that there are some remaining issues that need to be resolved. Those issues include ensuring that hemp farmers have access to crop insurance and financial services.

McConnell led Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on a tour of a Kentucky hemp farm earlier this month and also met with Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, advising the official to create a pathway for CBD to be lawfully marketed in food items and dietary supplements. Former Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that developing such regulations could take years absent congressional action.

FDA’s Abernethy recognized in her testimony that a multi-year process for rules to be developed “is a long time to wait for regulatory clarity, particularly given the significant public interest in hemp products, and CBD in particular.” FDA said earlier this month that it is speeding up its rulemaking effort for CBD, adding that it plans to issue a status update by early fall.

The official acknowledged that the Farm Bill “unleashed a wave of interest and innovation in hemp agriculture” and stressed “how significant of a policy sea change this has been.”

Abernethy said that “FDA’s approach to cannabis and cannabis derived products, including hemp products, is to treat these products just like we do any other.”

“FDA is committed to advancing hemp products through the Agency’s existing regulatory pathways, and we are further exploring whether it would be appropriate to make additional regulatory pathways available to hemp products such as those containing cannabidiol (CBD). FDA believes taking this approach protects patients and the public health, fosters innovation for safe and appropriate products, and promotes consumer confidence.”

She went on to say that FDA is “wrestling with questions not only about the intrinsic safety of CBD, but also about potentially unsafe manufacturing processes for products containing CBD.”

“FDA knows from CBD products it has tested that they may not contain the amount of CBD indicated on a label, or they may contain other potentially dangerous compounds that are not listed on the label,” she said. “Therefore, FDA must consider questions related to good manufacturing practices for CBD products and potential labeling that might be appropriate for these products to address any potential risks to consumers.”

Further, Abernethy described the complications the agency faces as it considers allowing for the lawful marketing of CBD products in the food supply or as dietary supplements. She suggested FDA would have to create exceptions for hemp under all of its regulations because carving out just one exception could “end up generating additional confusion in the marketplace—a result the Agency believes all stakeholders would prefer to avoid.”

“FDA will only consider creating legal pathways for CBD to be marketed as a dietary supplement or in a food if the Agency is confident that it can develop a framework that addresses safety concerns,” she said.

“Another issue that FDA plans to consider is whether allowing CBD to be marketed as a dietary supplement or in a food will deter clinical research to substantiate additional therapeutic uses for cannabis-derived compounds,” Abernathy added. “Less research into the promise of cannabis-derived compounds and fewer drug approvals in this area would be a significant loss for American patients.”

She also said that confusion generated from the legalization of hemp and its derivatives has led some companies to engage in interstate commerce and that “storefronts and online retailers have flooded the market with these products, many with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims.” Just this week, FDA sent a warning letter to CBD business Curaleaf for selling “unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims,” sending the company’s stock plummeting.

“As this new market emerges, we have seen substantial interest from industry, consumers, and Congress,” she said. “However, in the midst of the excitement and innovation, FDA’s role remains the same: to protect and promote the public health.”

USDA, for its part, initially said that it was aiming to release an interim final rule for hemp in August, but the Department’s Ibach said in his testimony that while officials are “committed to timely establishment of this program,” the rule “is currently undergoing interagency review and we hope to issue regulations in the Fall of 2019 to accommodate the 2020 crop year.”

“Once the regulation is published and becomes effective, [Agriculture Marketing Service] will move quickly to establish the program,” Ibach said. “AMS will begin accepting and reviewing state and tribal plans as well as license applications submitted by individuals who are located in States or territories of Indian Tribes that will not operate their own State or Tribal plan, and who wish to be licensed under the USDA plan.”

EPA’s representative discussed the agency’s role in approving pesticides for hemp plants, saying that officials anticipate that “pesticide registrants will intensify their interest in gaining crop protection approvals for use” on the crop thanks to “strong economic forecasts for hemp production.

“I can report that the agency has recently begun to receive a number of registration requests seeking to add hemp to pesticide labels,” Dunn said. “Currently, there are 10 product registration requests under review at the EPA.”

Dunn also said that the agency is prioritizing and reviewing on an expedited basis requests involving biological and microbial chemicals because they tend to have a low environmental impact.

“I anticipate these will be the first of a group of decisions that will support growers and this new industry,” she said.

An interagency dialogue is underway across EPA, USDA, FDA and the Justice Department, she said. Additionally, EPA is “also in discussions with the Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency about their approved pesticide labels and approaches to regulating hemp.”

During the second panel, Furnish, who was one of the first hemp farmers in Kentucky, talked about the potential of the hemp industry but also the unique risks that cultivators face.

Since the crop is now legal, “we need to take a close look and remove, one by one, the barriers to success so hemp can be on the same production playing field as all the other crops,” he said.

He also brought up part of Dunn’s testimony and emphasized the lack of EPA-approved pesticides for hemp.

“Most folks in the government and even in production agriculture probably don’t know or realize that hemp has no legal pesticide or herbicide or fungicide,” Furnish said. “A grower can lose its entire crop to weeds or pests. Without an approved herbicide or pesticide we may have to pay labor between $500 – $2500 an acre to pull the weeds to keep our hemp crop pure and healthy.”

Echoing a point that his home state senator, McConnell, has made on numerous occasions, he said hemp stands to be an economic benefit to Kentucky as tobacco farming dwindles.
“The labor necessary to successfully plant and harvest hemp is much the same as tobacco,” Furnish said. “That’s why hemp is and can be a great replacement for the dwindling tobacco production.”

“Corn, wheat and soybeans all have hundreds and maybe thousands of product uses. Hemp can too, but they need the barriers removed and the consistency and stabilization which come from the regulatory framework you all can give us. On behalf of the hemp farmers and growers, I’m asking for that help.”

The farmer also cited the lack of crop insurance and uncertainty about whether FDA will allow hemp derivatives in foods and dietary supplements as issues that lawmakers can help address.

Tribal Chairman Seki argued that USDA has left native populations out of the rulemaking process and he implored the department to take a more inclusive approach as it develops regulations for hemp, saying that officials have “frequently mischaracterized the sovereignty of Indian Tribes in the context of industrial hemp regulation under the 2018 Farm Bill.”

“Despite significant progress in the Farm Bill itself for Tribal sovereignty, USDA decisions to delay regulations are threatening to cripple Tribal industrial hemp projects before they can even begin,” he said. “If Tribes had always been on the same footing with states in terms of growing and regulating industrial hemp, this regulatory delay would merely be a source of frustration. Instead it poses a serious threat to competitive Tribal agribusiness.”

“The legalization of industrial hemp production marks a potential landmark economic opportunity for Tribes and Tribal producers through value-added agriculture. Because of this, it is vital that federal policymakers and agency officials negotiate with Tribal leaders, in robust government-to-government consultation, in shaping the federal regulatory structure implementing the industrial hemp provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill. This commitment must be made real from top to bottom at USDA. Otherwise, there is a high risk of this turning into yet another missed opportunity for Indian Country.”

A USDA memo released in May asserted that Indian tribes can engage with states that have approved hemp research programs authorized under the prior 2014 Farm Bill but they can’t authorize such programs themselves. Seki said it reflects a lack of inclusivity that native tribes are grappling with as states continue to move forward on hemp without the same restrictions.

He also decried delays in implementation, saying that “the more the AMS delays, the less time Tribal producers are given to prepare, plan, finance, and plant for the new crop year.”

Stark, of the National Hemp Association, said that the industry is in particular need of clarification when it comes to testing protocols, sampling, personnel eligibility requirements, cross-pollination and the importation of biomass.

“At the very heart of what we need to move forward is simplicity and clarity,” she said. “We need regulations that create an even playing field across the country. We need to eliminate the unintended consequences of legal ‘gray areas’ caused by each state testing differently and operating under a different set of rules and regulations.”

“The hemp industry has been struggling with legal uncertainties for too long and looks forward to reasonable regulations which will afford the opportunity for all to prosper within a clear legal framework,” she said.

While advocates have cast doubts on interest within the Republican-controlled Senate to pursue broader marijuana reform, hemp is one area where lawmakers from both parties have expressed support. And that sentiment was made clear during Thursday’s hearing.

Kentucky GOP Congressman Touts ‘High Hemp IQ’ Of His Constituents

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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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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United Nations To Vote On Marijuana Rescheduling And CBD Issues This Week, With U.S. Backing Some Reforms

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A key United Nations (UN) commission will vote on a series of World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations concerning international marijuana reform this week. And the U.S. is in favor of the boldest policy change.

UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has held numerous meetings on the proposals—including removing cannabis from the most restrictive global drug scheduling category under a global treaty—since WHO made its six recommendations last year. Now, after several delays, CND is finally scheduled to meet to decide on the measures on Wednesday.

Advocates are generally encouraged by the development, arguing that a vote in favor of the reforms will promote research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis. However, they say removing marijuana from its current international Schedule IV status does not go far enough and means that many member nations will continue to criminalize the plant.

Here are each of WHO’s cannabis recommendations:

1. Remove marijuana from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention.

2. Add THC and dronabinol (synthetic THC medication) to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention and, if approved, delete them from Schedule II of the 1971 Convention.

3. If the second recommendation is adopted, add tetrahydrocannabinol to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention and, if approved, delete it from Schedule I of the 1971 Convention.

4. Delete “extracts and tinctures of cannabis” from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

5. Add footnote to clarify that CBD products containing no more than 0.2 percent THC are not subject to international control.

6. Add “preparations containing dronabinol” to Schedule III of the 1961 Convention.

Last month, the U.S. government said it is backing the WHO recommendation to remove marijuana from the most restrictive global drug scheduling category—though it’s opposing separate cannabis reform proposals, including the one to clarify that CBD is not under international control.

John Walsh, director of drug policy for Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told Marijuana Moment that this upcoming vote is “momentous,” especially as “this is the first time that the UN scientific bodies has assessed placing cannabis and drug control schedules.”

‘And it’s extremely significant that the United States is supporting a recommendation to remove cannabis from Schedule IV, which strongly discourages medical uses of cannabis, even if it doesn’t outright prohibit it,” he said.

Of principal concern to advocates is that while marijuana would be removed from Schedule IV under the 1961 Single Convention—the most strict international category—it would maintain its status as a Schedule I controlled substance if the panel accepts the recommendation. (The international scheduling system differs from that of the U.S. in that the country’s most restrictive category is Schedule I.)

But despite supporting that recommendation, the U.S. circulated a proposed joint statement to other member states that claims consensus on the notion “that cannabis is properly subject to the full scope of international controls of the 1961 Single Convention, due in particular to the high rates of public health problems arising from cannabis use and the global extent of such problems, as identified in the critical review by WHO.”

It also stipulates that “no Party shall be precluded from adopting measures of control more strict or severe than those required as a result of this decision, if such measures in its opinion are necessary or desirable for the protection of the public health or welfare.” The language seems to attempt to leave room for countries to continue enforcing more restrictive cannabis policies regardless of international rules.

In an email obtained by Marijuana Moment, a State Department official said that the U.S. “believes, to demonstrate unity, every CND member and observer could ideally join the statement below, regardless of how their government will vote.” They also plan to proceed with filing the statement even if no other member states join them.

The statement represents a “disconnect” from the country’s planned vote in favor of removing marijuana from the international body’s most restrictive drug classification, Walsh said.

“Civil society had called for, and welcomed, this long overdue review process—but many have been critical of some of the recommendations,” drug policy reform advocates said in a media advisory. “While recommendations on medical cannabis and CBD are certainly positive steps, profound concerns have been raised around leaving cannabis in Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.”

“This recommendation is at odds with The Who Expert Committee on Drug Dependence’s clear finding that cannabis was less harmful than other drugs included in that schedule (heroin and cocaine),” the advisory, prepared by advocacy groups Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Transnational Institute, International Drug Policy Consortium and WOLA, said.

“Regardless of the outcome of the votes on 2 December, this historic review process has demonstrably failed to implement a much-needed modernization of an outdated and malfunctioning system, and to resolve key scientific, political, institutional and human rights challenges related to cannabis and its status in the international drugs control system,” they said.

Numerous health and drug policy reform groups have advocated for the more modest changes WHO proposed.

A coalition of drug policy groups told member nations in a sign-on statement that patients worldwide are “counting on you to seize the opportunity offered by WHO to update the treaties, doing all you can to ensure access to all useful medicines. Including cannabis medicines.”

“Adopting WHO’s recommendations would lead to better medications being developed and more tools for doctors to alleviate suffering while simultaneously reinforcing the UN’s relevance,” they said.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies also weighed in in favor of the recommendations.

While the WHO’s CBD recommendation would simply offer clarification that cannabidiol products containing no more than 0.2 percent THC isn’t a controlled substance under international treaties, the U.S. came down against that and several other cannabis-related proposals.

It should be noted that none of WHO’s recommendations would promote the legalization of cannabis in any country, but advocates nonetheless seem that as a step forward from the status quo.

“This is super, super meaningful. But I don’t want to overstate it,” Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalization advocate who has spent years working to reform international drug treaties, told Marijuana Moment. “I’ve been cautioning really hard to member states to not fall into this trap that the opposition fell into on [on California’s 1996 medical cannabis initiative] of overstating what this does in an effort to try to stop it—and then vicariously creating expectations in people’s minds that this actually does much more than it does.”

But the U.S.’s expected support for the proposal to remove marijuana from Schedule IV represents a departure from its position as articulated in a government document that Marijuana Moment obtained earlier this year. The document stated that it’s “possible that civil society, the media, and the general public will view deleting cannabis from Schedule IV as a first step toward widespread legalization of marijuana use, especially without proper messaging.”

Meanwhile, if the recommendation on CBD is adopted, it could potentially have far-reaching implications in the U.S. In 2018, the FDA determined that CBD does not meet the criteria for federal control—except for the fact that international treaties to which the U.S. is party could potentially be construed as requiring it.

The U.S. does intend to back the fourth WHO recommendation on deleting cannabis extracts and tinctures from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention, according to advocates familiar with the delegation’s thinking.

FDA has on several occasions solicited public input to shape the government’s position on the international scheduling of marijuana and cannabinoids. The agency initially requested feedback on the proposal in March 2019 and then reopened that comment period five months later.

House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week

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House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week

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A key House committee has scheduled a Wednesday hearing to advance a bill to federally legalize marijuana toward a full floor vote, which could then happen as soon as Thursday. Meanwhile, leaders in the chamber are proposing an amendment that would make several changes to the cannabis legislation.

Among the most significant revisions would be to the tax-related provisions of the bill.

The Rules Committee’s move to take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act follows Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announcement that the chamber would be holding a floor vote on the bill before the end of the year.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the bill, transmitted it to Rules with the series of modifications—many of them technical in nature. But beyond the tax changes, the newly proposed language also reaffirms the regulatory authority of certain federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and clarifies that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.

Other members of the House are likely to file proposed amendments as well, though the Democratic majority of the Rules panel will determine which ones can be made in order for floor votes later this week.

As originally drafted, the legislation would have imposed a five percent tax on marijuana products, revenue from which would be used in part to fund a grant program to support communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. In Nadler’s amendment, that language is being removed and replaced with text that more closely reflects a separate descheduling bill, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act.

The modified tax provisions of the MORE Act would make it so cannabis would be federally taxed at five percent for the first two years after implementation and then increased by one percent each year until reaching eight percent. After five years, taxes would be applied to marijuana products based on weight rather than price.

At its core, the MORE Act would federally deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions. The descheduling provisions would be retroactive.

The bill would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

A new Cannabis Justice Office under the Justice Department would be responsible for distributing funds providing loans for small cannabis businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The bill also seeks to minimize barriers to licensing and employment in the legal industry.

While the bill still calls for the establishment of a Community Reinvestment Grant Program, the new leadership amendment would remove a line calling for it to specifically fund “services to address any collateral consequences that individuals or communities face as a result of the War on Drugs.”

Tax dollars appropriated to that program would instead more generally go to job training, legal aid for criminal and civil cases such as those concerning marijuana-related expungements, literacy programs and youth recreation and mentoring services, among other programs.

The definition of people impacted by the drug war who could be eligible for aid is also being changed to narrow the scope. At first it included those who have “been arrested for or convicted of the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of cannabis or a controlled substance,” but now it only extends to marijuana and not other illicit drugs.

Other changes included in Nadler’s latest revision include one requiring FDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to hold public meetings on “regulation, safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds” within one year of the bill’s enactment.

The language is also being updated to reflect the current number of states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, clarify that FDA and HHS maintain their authorities to regulate cannabis products and stipulate that federal agencies can continue to include cannabis in employee drug testing. A conforming amendment would clarify that the U.S. Department of Transportation could continue to require drug testing for workers in safety sensitive positions.

The revised version also stipulates that funding can be made available to “connect patients with substance use disorder services” and apply to “individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of a controlled substance other than cannabis (except for a conviction involving distribution to a minor).”

The proposal also deletes from the definition of substance misuse treatment language stating that it would be an “evidence-based, professionally directed, deliberate, and planned regimen including evaluation, observation, medical monitoring, harm reduction, and rehabilitative services and interventions such as pharmacotherapy, mental health services, and individual and group counseling, on an inpatient or outpatient basis, to help patients with substance use disorder reach remission and maintain recovery.”

There are also a number of technical and conforming changes in the proposal, as well as the removal of the word “most” from “individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs” when it comes to determining eligibility for the new programs and services created by the legislation.

In a new report on the bill that was submitted by the Democratic majority in Judiciary, members said cannabis enforcement “has been a key driver of mass criminalization in the United States” and the “drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through significant racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system.”

“The higher arrest and incarceration rates for communities of color do not reflect a greater prevalence of drug use, but rather the focus on law enforcement on urban areas, lower income communities, and communities of color,” they wrote.

Further, the “collateral consequences of even an arrest for marijuana possession can be devastating, especially if a felony conviction results.”

“Those arrested can be saddled with a criminal conviction that can make it difficult or impossible to vote, obtain educational loans, get a job, maintain a professional license, secure housing, secure government assistance, or even adopt a child,” the report states. “These exclusions create an often-permanent second-class status for millions of Americans. Like drug war enforcement itself, these consequences fall disproportionately on people of color. For non-citizens, a conviction can trigger deportation, sometimes with almost no possibility of discretionary relief.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), GOP ranking member on the panel, wrote the minority opinion in the report.

He argued that the MORE Act “disregards established science” and “would open the floodgates to marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sale within the United States—allowing bad actors and transnational criminal organizations to further exploit America’s addiction crisis.”

The congressman complained that the legislation—which he called “an extreme and unwise measure”—wouldn’t impose limits on THC concentration or ban flavored cannabis products, and he said it “fails to funnel any tax revenue towards a public awareness campaign to discourage teen use of marijuana, modeled on successful anti-tobacco campaigns.”

He also claimed it “does nothing to help the Federal government and scientific community to understand the effects of marijuana usage.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead sponsor of the Senate companion version of the MORE Act.

One provision of the bill requires that any uses of the words “marijuana” or “marihuana” in U.S. Code or regulations be replaced with the term “cannabis”—despite the fact that the legislation has “marijuana” in its own title.

The Congressional Research Service released an analysis of the MORE Act last week, finding that the bill’s passage could “reverse” the current cannabis policy gap that exists between states and the federal government.

That’s because the bill does not require states to stop criminalizing cannabis, and so jurisdictions with prohibition still on the books could continue to punish people over marijuana even as such activity is legalized at the federal level.

Even if the legislation does pass in the Democratic-controlled chamber, as it’s expected to with some bipartisan support, it remains unlikely that the Senate will follow suit. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a champion of the hemp industry but staunchly opposes further marijuana reform.

That said, a symbolic vote for legalization could send a strong signal to the incoming Biden administration.

Given Biden’s former approach to championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that a clear majority of Americans favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to achieve more modest reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.

A transition document the incoming Biden-Harris administration released this month left out mention of those cannabis pledges.

That said, the president-elect has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a “mistake.”

For his part, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

These States Could Have Marijuana Legalization On Their 2022 Ballots

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USDA Expands Hemp Crop Insurance Program For Farmers In More States

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Monday that it is expanding and improving a crop insurance program for hemp farmers.

The Multi-Peril Crop Insurance is one of several coverage programs for which hemp qualifies. Under the new expansion, farmers in certain counties of the additional states of Arizona, Arkansas, Nevada and Texas will be eligible, as will those in new counties of states already included in the program, such as Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee and Virginia.

Broker contracts for hemp grain will also be allowed for the first time, and reporting and billing dates will be adjusted to match those for similar crops.

“We are pleased to expand the hemp program and make other improvements for hemp producers,” USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Martin Barbre said in a press release. “Hemp offers exciting economic opportunities for our nation’s farmers, and we are listening and responding to their risk management needs.”

Crop insurance policies are one of many areas USDA has acted in following hemp’s legalization through the 2018 Farm Bill.

The department has approved nearly 70 state and tribal regulatory hemp proposals and recently awarded an advocacy group $200,000 to support America’s international hemp trade.

Last month USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations after temporarily reopening the feedback period due to strong pushback from stakeholders, many of whom said the policies were too restrictive. An initial comment round saw more than 4,600 submissions.

Due to the concerns, Congress approved a continuing resolution that extends a current hemp pilot program established in 2014 through September 2021. That program, which many in the industry feel is more flexible than USDA’s proposed rules, was initially set to expire in October.

The department announced last month that it is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

Also last month, USDA issued and then rescinded guidance on providing federal loans for hemp processors.

Several members of Congress sent a letter to USDA and other federal agencies this month, telling them to better coordinate their hemp policies.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.

While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.

These States Could Have Marijuana Legalization On Their 2022 Ballots

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