Texas Bill Approved in House, Would Expand Medical MJ Eligibility, Replace THC Cap

Texas has some major changes surrounding cannabis on the horizon.

The state’s House of Representatives has given initial approval to a bill allowing doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients as an alternative to opioids for chronic pain treatment. The bill would specifically expand eligibility for low-THC cannabis products, granting legal access to patients with “a condition that causes chronic pain, for which a physician would otherwise prescribe an opioid.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, one in five Americans live with chronic pain. In 2021, more than 106,000 people in the U.S. died from a drug-involved overdose, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, according to the National Institutes of Health. In Texas specifically, there was an 80% increase in reported synthetic opioid-related deaths in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Conversely, even the DEA admits that no deaths from cannabis overdose have ever occurred.

A New Chapter for the Texas Cannabis Industry?

The legislation, House Bill 1805, would also replace the THC cap established under Texas’s existing medical cannabis law. Texas’s medical cannabis law is currently CBD-only, with a cap of 1% THC for cannabis oil. Should the bill be enacted, the THC limit would shift to the volumetric dose of 10 mg. The bill further stipulates that Department of State Health Services (DSHS) regulators could approve additional debilitating medical conditions to qualify new patients for the cannabis program through rulemaking.

The bill from Rep. Stephanie Klick (R) cleared the chamber after a 121-23 vote on Tuesday, and it needs one more round of approval in the House before it can move to the Senate. If enacted, the bill would take effect on Sept. 1, 2023.

Texas NORML has also encouraged supporters in the state to reach out to lawmakers and voice their support of the reform, encouraging lawmakers to approve it. Jax James, executive director of Texas NORML, said in a news release that he is “thrilled” to see the advancement of the proposed legislation.

“Passage of this legislation will provide qualified patients with a state-sanctioned option to access a therapy that has proven to offer significant benefits,” Jones said. “Medical cannabis is an objectively safer alternative to the array of pharmaceutical drugs that it could potentially replace. I urge my fellow Texans to voice their support for this important legislation and to reach out to their Senators to encourage their backing as it moves through the legislative process.”

One of Many Recent Shifts

Of course, this move could be seen as a small step compared to other states that have enacted more wide-reaching medical cannabis legislation, or ended prohibition as a whole, though it still represents significant expansion for Texas. It’s also one of several recent moves that show Texas may be broadening its horizons when it comes to cannabis.

Texas lawmakers recently held a hearing on House Bill 218 that, if passed, would lower the penalties for possession of cannabis and cannabis concentrates. Last month, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee also voted 9-0 to pass a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.

On Election Day 2022, five Texas cities also voted to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession: Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights. In the weeks since, some cities clashed with lawmakers, who argued that the decriminalization effort violates state law and hinders police officers.

Recently, a Texas Federal Court also ruled that the federal ban on cannabis users owning firearms is unconstitutional. The judge on the case, Kathleen Cardone, said, “It strains credulity to believe that taking part in such a widespread practice can render an individual so dangerous or untrustworthy that they must be stripped of their Second Amendment rights.”

Texas Residents Favor Updated Cannabis Policies

And while Texas still has very restrictive cannabis laws, they don’t align with views the state’s citizens hold.

According to a University of Houston study released earlier this year, out of 1,200 Texan adults 18 and older, four out of five adults said they would support an expanded medical cannabis program. The survey also found that the majority of respondents supported decriminalizing cannabis possession, lessening the penalty of possessing small amounts of cannabis to a citation, and two-thirds of surveyed individuals support legalizing cannabis for adult use.

Another poll, conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Politics Project in 2022, similarly found that a strong majority (72%) back decriminalizing cannabis by making the offense punishable by a citation and fine with no threat of jail time. Only 17% said they would support a complete prohibition on cannabis usage, including medicinal cannabis.

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New Hampshire House Approves Cannabis Legalization Bill

The New Hampshire House of Representatives on April 7 approved bipartisan legislation to legalize cannabis for adults. The measure, House Bill 639 from Republican Representative Jason Osborne and Representative Matt Wilhelm, his Democratic colleague, was approved by the House by a vote of 272-109 late on Thursday. The legislation, which received initial approval from members of the House in February, now heads to the New Hampshire Senate for consideration.

“I am pleased to see New Hampshire take a step toward relieving gangsters and thugs from control of this market, keeping dangerous untested products away from consumers, and protecting children from harmful age-inappropriate products,” Osborne said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.

If passed by the state Senate and signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, House Bill 639 would legalize the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older. If adopted, New Hampshire would join the 21 states that have already legalized recreational marijuana, making the state the last in New England to end the prohibition on cannabis.

The legislation directs the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, which would be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Commission, to regulate the commercial cultivation, processing, safety testing and distribution of cannabis. The measure also sets a 15% tax on cannabis cultivation, with revenue raised by the tax dedicated largely to the state’s pension liability and New Hampshire’s education trust fund. Revenue raised from cannabis taxes would also be used to fund substance misuse programs and law enforcement training.

Under current New Hampshire law, simple possession of up to ¾ of an ounce of cannabis is a civil offense subject to a fine of up to $100. Possession of cannabis in amounts greater than ¾ of an ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $350.

“With the decisive passage of HB 639, the New Hampshire House has sent a strong message that this is the year to legalize adult-use cannabis in the Granite State,” Wilhelm said in a statement. “Every year we fail to legalize marijuana, the state wastes valuable resources and ruins the lives of many young and poor Granite Staters by enforcing failed prohibition.”

Previous Attempts To Legalize Cannabis in New Hampshire Failed

Previous attempts to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire have also seen success in the House of Representatives but failed to gain approval in the state Senate. Supporters of HB 639 hope this year will be different.

“New Hampshire remains the only state in New England that has failed to legalize cannabis, while our neighbors benefit from increased revenue and their cannabis users benefit from safer testing and regulation of the product,” he continued. “Legalization of adult possession of small amounts of cannabis is the right thing to do for New Hampshire and we must get it done in 2023.”

While HB 639 was approved by the New Hampshire House of Representatives by a wide margin, the state Senate is less likely to vote in favor of the bill. The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate, however, including from Republican Senator Keith Murphy and Democrats Senator Becky Whitley and Senator Donovan Fenton, according to a report from The Center Square.

“Prohibition has proven over and over to be a failed public policy,” Murphy said in a statement. “It is especially ineffective when all of our surrounding states have already legalized marijuana possession and use. Investigating and prosecuting cannabis possession is a terrible waste of tax dollars. For these reasons, I am encouraging my Senate colleagues to support the bill.”

If the proposal is approved by the upper chamber of the state legislature, Sununu has indicated he will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk. If he does, the legislature would then have an opportunity to override the veto.

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Maryland Lawmakers Pass Recreational Marijuana Sales Bill

Lawmakers in Maryland passed legislation over the weekend to regulate commercial cannabis production and sales after months of negotiation on issues including social equity and taxation. The bill, which sets the stage for regulated recreational marijuana sales to begin on July 1, now heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Wes Moore.

The Maryland Senate passed the bill with amendments on Friday by a vote of 30-12. The House of Delegates, which originally approved the measure on March 10, passed the amended version of the legislation on Saturday with a 104-35 vote, sending the bill to Moore for consideration. The governor, who supported efforts to legalize cannabis for adults in Maryland, is expected to sign the bill, according to a report from the Washington Post.

After the bill’s passage, lawmakers said that they drew on Maryland’s experience legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis and regulatory efforts in other states to draft the legislation to legalize the production and sale of recreational marijuana.

“We’ve been talking with our counterparts in other states saying, ‘If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently? What did you wish you had known when you set up your program?’” Democratic Senator Melony Griffith, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said at a press conference. “We have great expertise here in Maryland, with our medicinal cannabis program, and have had tremendous success. So all of those ingredients, if you will, have been rolled into our cannabis framework.”

In November, Maryland voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passage of Question 4, a state referendum that was approved with nearly two-thirds of the vote. The bill passed by the legislature on Saturday sets the stage for legalization to take effect, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to two cannabis plants at home, beginning on July 1. 

Under the legislation, a new regulation and enforcement division would be created within the state’s existing Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which would be renamed the Alcohol, Tobacco and Cannabis Commission. The legislation includes provisions to guide the regulation of cannabis production and sales and sets a 9% tax on recreational marijuana purchases. 

Lawmakers Block New Amendment To Further Restrict Dispensaries

Before the bill was passed in the House, Republican Delegate Wayne A. Hartman proposed an amendment that would increase the mandatory minimum distance separating cannabis dispensaries from 500 feet to one mile. The proposal also would have required dispensaries to be at least one mile away from schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries.

“So, we couldn’t put a dispensary anywhere in Ocean City because there’s nowhere that spans a mile between any of these things?” asked House Economic Matters chair C.T. Wilson.

“I can’t tell you I’m heartbroken by that,” Hartman replied.

But Wilson said that the residents of Hartman’s district might feel differently, noting that voters approved the referendum to legalize adult-use cannabis in Maryland with more than two-thirds of the vote statewide.

“They asked us to do this,” he said. “They asked us to do this in a fair and equitable way. They asked us to make sure we didn’t stick them all in one place and to make sure that anybody who wanted to buy does have access.”

Social Equity A Priority

To help promote equity in the cannabis industry and ownership by those negatively affected by marijuana prohibition, the first licenses awarded in Maryland will be reserved for social equity applicants. To qualify, an applicant must have at least 65% ownership by an individual who lived in a “disproportionately impacted area” for five of the last 10 years or attended a public school in such an area. The bill also creates a new Office of Social Equity in the cannabis division to promote participation by “people from communities that have previously been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs,” Wilson said at a committee hearing for the bill last month.

Brian Vicente, founding partner at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, lauded the approval of the cannabis commerce legalization bill by the Maryland legislature.

“Maryland continues its charge towards legalization with the House and Senate sending a regulatory bill to the governor’s desk to establish a robust, adult-use licensing structure,” Vicente wrote in an email to High Times. “This law will increase the number of cannabis businesses, and the first round of new business owners will be social equity applicants. Since state voters passed legalization by almost 70%, it’s unsurprising that the Maryland legislature is moving quickly to implement the voter’s will. They remain firmly on target to begin adult-use sales by July 1.”

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Telehealth Medical Cannabis Prescriptions Could Be Coming to Florida Under New Bill

Discreet prescription refills via telehealth visits are already the norm for medications like hair loss and erectile dysfunction medication for men, which is easier to do when it’s not in-person. The same methods could be used to be discreet and quietly get prescriptions for medical cannabis under a new Florida bill.

House Bill 387 is sponsored by Spencer Roach (R-North Fort Myers) and would allow practitioners to certify patients for medical cannabis via FaceTime, Skype, etc. visits rather than in-person visits. Roach told the House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee that the bill would “treat this (medical marijuana) like any other medicine.”

Doctors in Florida are doing it anyway, and the bill would simply make the practice legal, lawmakers said in so many words. It would also organize the way the rules are enforced. The bill “would add a necessary and immediate tool to help the department when physicians break the rules,” Roach added.

Barry Gordon specializes in medical cannabis care in Venice, Florida. He told the House panel that using telehealth to be certified would benefit some of the sickest Floridians—the ones who need it most.

“It’s a cost-savings for patients, it’s safe for patients, and it’s critical,” Gordon said at the hearing. “You have to remember that our patients are sometimes the most debilitated and weakest of the patients here in Florida.”

The Tampa Bay Times reports that over 2,500 doctors in Florida completed the training that allows them to order medical cannabis for patients. Voters said yes in 2016 by approving a constitutional amendment that legalizes medical cannabis. Nearly 800,000 patients have been certified for medical cannabis so far.

Currently, doctors must provide a physical examination of a patient “while physically present in the same room as the patient” before certifying them and ordering medical cannabis.

Not so fast, though. The bill also would allow the Department of Health to suspend a physician from being able to order medical cannabis for up to two years if he or she “provides, advertises or markets telehealth services prior to July 1, 2023.”

Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) filed a similar bill for consideration during the 60-day legislative session.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended the state’s face-to-face requirement for medical cannabis due to COVID-19, but it only applied for patients who were renewing medical cannabis certifications. People who need to see new doctors are out of luck. DeSantis’s executive order expired in 2021, but some doctors continue to use telehealth to recertify patients anyways.

Medical Cannabis in Florida

Florida’s Department of Health recently announced that it will open a new round of licensing for medical marijuana businesses that will double the number of vertically integrated cannabis operators in the state. In an emergency rule, the health department revealed that 22 new medical cannabis business licenses will be available, a move that would double the 22 operators currently licensed to produce and sell medical marijuana in Florida. The new emergency rule comes more than six years after Florida voters legalized the medicinal use of cannabis.

Meanwhile, the WISE & Free Florida committee is seeking to get home growing in Florida via a proposal on the 2024 ballot, according to the state Division of Elections website. In order to do this, they would need to submit 891,589 valid petition signatures.

Similarly, Smart & Safe Florida is seeking to get an amendment on the 2024 ballot that would legalize adult-use cannabis. The Smart & Safe Florida committee submitted 291,999 valid signatures as of Friday.

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Legislators Reintroduce Psychedelic Therapy Bill

Four legislators announced on March 7 that they have refiled their psychedelic therapy bill. Rep. Nancy Mace, Rep. Madeleine Dean, Sen. Cory Booker, and Sen. Rand Paul introduced the Breakthrough Therapies Act, an updated bill that would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and open up access to substances such as MDMA or psilocybin for medical patients.

“Breakthrough therapies give us the opportunity to improve the lives of all those suffering from treatment-resistant mental illnesses. It is our duty to make sure veterans have access to every possible treatment option that shows promise, including MDMA- and psilocybin-assisted therapies,” said Mace in a press release. “This legislation will remove the bureaucratic hurdles which have hindered critical research and compassionate use of potentially lifesaving therapies.”

If passed, the bill would amend the CSA’s definition of “currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions” to “include the active ingredients of therapies that receive an FDA Breakthrough Therapy Designation or Expanded Access approval.” In effect, this would allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to move certain “breakthrough therapies” of Schedule I substances into the Schedule II category, which is less restrictive when it comes to research and studies regarding medical compassionate use.

“According to recent studies, certain Schedule I substances such as MDMA and psilocybin could offer major advancements in the treatment of depression, severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction,” said Booker. “This bill will eliminate unreasonably burdensome rules and regulations that delay or prevent researchers from studying these breakthrough mental health treatments, and will provide access to these promising therapies for eligible patients who urgently need care.”

The newer version of the bill includes a section stating that substances that move from Schedule I to Schedule II could be moved back to Schedule I “if the drug no longer has a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions and the Secretary of Health and Human Services recommends that the Attorney General control the drug in schedule I pursuant to subsections,” the text states. In that case, the Attorney General would act within 90 days of receiving a letter from the Secretary to issue an interim final rule.

Originally, Booker and Paul filed the previous version of this bill in November 2022, but it did not receive any progress in the Senate. Previously, Booker and Paul also introduced “Right to Try” legislation in July 2022. “As a physician, I know how important Right to Try is for patients facing a life-threatening condition,” said Paul last year. “Unfortunately, the federal bureaucracy continues to block patients seeking to use Schedule I drugs under Right to Try. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan legislation with Sen. Booker that will get government out of the way and give doctors more resources to help patients.”

The growing support of psychedelics as medicine also lends evidence that patients could benefit from it. A press release from Mace explains that more than 40 organizations have come out in support of the new bill, such as Veteran Mental Health Leadership Coalition, Reason for Hope, and Special Operations Association of America. It’s also important to mention that the Australian government recently announced on Feb 3 that it would be rescheduling MDMA and psilocybin to allow physicians to prescribe those substances to patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or treatment-resistant depression.

Many patients could benefit from access to MDMA and psilocybin treatments, especially veterans. There are other efforts currently underway to help boost research efforts for cannabis as a way to treat PTSD and chronic pain in military veterans. Senate Bill 326, or the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, would require that the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) conduct research and report findings to congress regarding its therapeutic value.

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Psychedelics Decriminalization Bill Introduced by California Lawmaker

A California lawmaker on Monday introduced legislation to decriminalize the possession and use of natural psychedelics including psilocybin, the primary psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms. The bill, introduced by state Senator Scott Wiener, follows similar legislation the San Francisco Democrat introduced last year that was eventually gutted by the legislature in August.

The bill likely faces opposition from law enforcement groups wary of the potential safety risks of easing restrictions on psychedelic drugs, according to media reports. But the measure is backed by mental health professionals and veterans groups that want to allow access to the potential benefits of the compounds.

“Psychedelics have tremendous capacity to help people heal, but right now, using them is a criminal offense,” Wiener said in a statement. “These drugs literally save lives and are some of the most promising treatments we have for PTSD, anxiety, depression, and addiction.”

Psychedelics And Mental Health

Clinical research and other studies into psychedelics such as psilocybin have shown that the drugs have potential therapeutic benefits, particularly for serious mental health conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. Research published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2020 found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was an effective and quick-acting treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. A separate study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.

The legislation introduced on Monday, Senate Bill 58 (SB 58), would decriminalize the possession and use of small quantities of natural psychedelic drugs including psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The bill does not legalize the sale of psychedelic drugs. Chad Harman, CEO of psychedelics-focused biotech firm Psycheceutical, said that SB 58 “is a huge advancement for the progress of the psychedelic movement.”

“A careful review of the science and facts surrounding these potentially life-saving compounds is exactly what we have been fighting for, and now the State of California is showing signs of being on board,” Harman wrote in an email. “Not only does this decriminalization bill confirm growing momentum and acceptance from the scientific and medical communities, but it could set the precedent needed for other states to follow suit.”

Bill Follows Similar Measure Introduced Last Year

The measure is similar to legislation introduced by Wiener last year, although the new bill does not include synthetic psychedelics such as LSD or MDMA (ecstasy) that were included in the previous version. The earlier measure, Senate Bill 519 (SB 519), was stripped of its decriminalization provisions by a legislative committee, leaving legislation that only funded a study of the proposal.

“While I am extremely disappointed by this result, I am looking to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs,” Wiener said in an August statement after learning of the changes made to SB 519. “Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment. We are not giving up.”

Joshua Kappel, an attorney with the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg, said that Wiener’s new bill could advance the use of psychedelics for mental health, similar to a ballot measure passed by Colorado voters in last month’s midterm elections.

“California’s SB 58 is smart drug policy. John Hopkins, UCLA, and many other universities are discovering that psychedelic-assisted therapy shows promise in treating addiction, depression, and PTSD, Kappel wrote in an email to High Times. “Similar to what the voters recently passed in Colorado through Prop 122, SB 58 decriminalizes the same natural medicines and creates a pathway for supervised therapeutic use.”

Although the bill is supported by some mental health professionals and veterans groups, it is likely to face opposition from law enforcement groups that opposed Wiener’s original bill.

“Without more evidence that these hallucinogenic drugs are no more dangerous than cannabis, we cannot support legalizing them,” the California District Attorneys Assn. wrote in opposition to the previous version of the bill. “Hallucinations can be dangerous to users and bystanders alike, and it is not clear that the benefit of legalizing these drugs outweighs the cost to the common welfare.”

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New Hampshire Lawmakers Prepare Legalization Bill

New Hampshire Lawmakers Prepare Legalization Bill

New Hampshire Public Radio reports that the “top Republican and Democrat in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives are teaming up to introduce a bill to legalize the possession and retail sale of marijuana in New Hampshire.” 

The GOP controls the lower chamber, and the top Republican, House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, will collaborate with House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm to ensure that the so-called “Live Free or Die State” actually lives up to its motto. 

Osborne and Wilhelm are hoping that their colleagues in the state Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans, will get on board this time around.

The state House of Representatives approved a bill that would have legalized pot in April, but the measure was subsequently shot down in the state Senate.

“The House has long stood united in finding a pathway to getting this done for Granite Staters,” Osborne said, as quoted by New Hampshire Public Radio. “With any luck, the Senate will come around to supporting the will of the vast majority of New Hampshire citizens.”

Wilhelm echoed that, saying that legalization of adult possession of small amounts of cannabis is the right thing to do for New Hampshire and we must get it done in 2023.” 

As the Concord Monitor noted, New Hampshire stands as an outlier in the region with its status as “the lone state in New England that has yet to legalize marijuana.”

According to the outlet, the bill, which has not yet been formally introduced, “would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to four ounces of cannabis, protect for cultivation both at home and through state-licensed private sites, enable retail sales and establish a state regulatory and licensing body.”

“This proposal to legalize cannabis for adults in New Hampshire brings together diverse nonpartisan perspectives. This bill brings a solution to pay off our pension liability, reduce property taxes, provide additional resources for law enforcement, while restricting minors from accessing cannabis,” Osborne said in a statement, as quoted by the Concord Monitor.

Osborne and Wilhelm will have other potential impediments beyond the state Senate if they are to get legalization passed.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who was elected to a fourth term in last month’s election, has long expressed his opposition to cannabis legalization, which he has said could exacerbate the existing crisis surrounding fentanyl abuse. 

“I’ve always said now’s not the time. Every state does it very different. I’ve always wanted to see what works and what doesn’t,” Sununu said in a gubernatorial debate this fall, as quoted by the Concord Monitor. “There may be a way to do it but given that we are facing an opioid crisis, given that we still don’t know what works with other states, it could be inevitable, I get it, but you got to be patient about how you do it and the steps that are best for New Hampshire.”

Advocates such as Osborne and Wilhelm contend that the state is being left behind in an era of legalization, and that prohibition continues to disproportionately affect people of color.

New Hampshire Public Radio, citing data from the American Civil Liberties Union, reported that “1,120 people were charged with marijuana possession in New Hampshire in 2021 alone,” with the data indicating that “Black people are far more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white people, even though both groups use cannabis at comparable rates.”

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New York Gov. Hochul Signs Bill To Expand Industrial Hemp

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday signed into law a bill that seeks to expand the states industrial hemp industry. 

The legislation, which was sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, aims to “promote greater use of New York-grown industrial hemp by businesses in New York State,” and “instructs the Commissioner of Agriculture & Markets, in collaboration with the Urban Development Corporation, the [New York State] Hemp Workgroup, and industry representatives, to develop a plan to expand market opportunities for industrial hemp that would increase its use in manufacturing and construction materials, including packaging, textiles, and hempcrete.”

“Hemp is the material of the future, and positioning New York as a leading producer of the world’s industrial hemp supply is a winning strategy for fighting the Climate Crisis, bringing large-scale economic development to New York’s rural communities, and unlocking new revenue sources to put our farmers in a better financial position,” Hinchey said in a statement on Tuesday. “I’m proud that my hemp bill has been signed into law, directing our state to seek strategic collaborations to help us usher in a new era of manufacturing power, product creation, and rural economic development around an industry that is nearly untapped around the world.”

Industrial hemp was legalized on the federal level in 2018, when Congress passed a Farm Bill that opened the door for states to allow its cultivation.

State leaders have since eagerly approved their own laws and regulations for hemp production, capitalizing on a burgeoning new industry.

In New York, hemp farmers have been able to get in on the ground floor of another cash crop after Hochul signed a bill in February allowing them to apply for conditional licenses to grow marijuana, which the state legalized for recreational use and sales in 2021. 

“I am proud to sign this bill, which positions New York’s farmers to be the first to grow cannabis and jumpstart the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building,” Hochul said at the time. “New York State will continue to lead the way in delivering on our commitment to bring economic opportunity and growth to every New Yorker in every corner of our great state.”   

Hinchey celebrated the signing of that bill, as well.

“Today is an exciting day in New York as our bill to give New York farmers the ability to start the cannabis market is signed into law. The [new marijuana law] set the foundation for our state to build a truly circular cannabis economy that puts New York farmers and small business dispensaries at the center of growth and production, and with the signing of this bill, farmers can now put seeds in the ground to ensure we meet the demand of this burgeoning industry. I thank Governor Hochul for her quick action on this bill so that we can get to work building the most forward-thinking and socially-equitable cannabis industry in the country,” Hinchey said in a statement at the time.

New York Adult-Use Cannabis Market

Since she took over for former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August of 2021, Hochul has been busy getting the state’s new adult-use cannabis industry up and running. 

Hochul, who won her first election as the incumbent governor in last month’s midterms, said in October that she expects the first regulated pot retailers to open their doors to customers by the end of the year. 

 “We expect the first 20 dispensaries to be open by the end of this year,” the Democratic governor said at the time. “And then every month or so, another 20. So, we’re not going to just jam it out there. It’s going to work and be successful.”

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Bill Introduced to Raise THC Limit in Hemp to One Percent

Hemp production was legalized at the federal level under the 2018 Farm Bill—but endless red tape and regulatory demands make it next to impossible to thrive in the industry. Growers and processors say the THC thresholds in particular make the industry unbearable.

But fortunately, a potential legislative fix to some of those problems is underway. In particular, the bill would raise the THC limit to a reasonable one percent during cultivation and processing, saving some farms from ruin over hot crops and other hiccups.

On February 8, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced the Hemp Advancement Act of 2022 with the goal to improve the 2018 Farm Bill’s hemp provisions and provide greater clarity and flexibility to hemp growers and processors. 

“The 2018 Farm Bill laid a legal pathway for hemp production but created overly complicated regulations and hardship for farmers and small businesses in the process. I am introducing The Hemp Advancement Act of 2022 to eliminate unworkable testing requirements, set reasonable THC thresholds for producers and processors while protecting consumers, and end the discriminatory policy that bans people with drug convictions from growing legal hemp,” said Congresswoman Pingree. 

She continued, “My bill takes a commonsense, straightforward approach to correct these unintended implementation problems and works to make the hemp industry more profitable and more equitable. My bill also provides a clear path forward for this industry and will support a thriving hemp economy.”

Congresswoman Pingree highlighted three fixes to the 2018 Farm Bill that The Hemp Advancement Act of 2022 would implement:

  • Raise the allowable THC threshold for hemp and in-process hemp extract to make the rules more workable for growers and processors while ensuring that final hemp products sold to consumers aren’t intoxicating.
  • Remove the requirement that hemp testing occur in DEA-registered laboratories, which is a particular challenge in Maine where there currently aren’t any of these facilities.
  • End the 10-year ban on people with drug-related felony convictions receiving a hemp license, which disproportionately excludes communities of color from participating in this emerging market.

Congresswoman Pingree’s Hemp Advancement Act of 2022 is officially supported by about a dozen hemp organizations including The U.S. Hemp Roundtable—proudly representing the industry’s major national hemp grassroots organizations.

“The 2018 Farm Bill, while well-intended, left some challenges,” Jonathan Miller, General Counsel of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable told High Times on the phone. “The USDA has done a terrific job of responding to farmer concerns, but there are certain issues that have to be changed in the law to reduce the burdens on U.S. farmers—the first is the THC level.” 

Unlike other industries, hemp growers face much higher fiscal risks because of these particular regulations.

“What’s happening is that we are constantly hearing that farmers—through no fault of their own, largely due to the weather or the soil or seed quality—will grow a field of hemp,” Miller said. “And it will be tested to be slightly above the point of 0.3 percent THC level, and they’ll have to burn their entire field or major parts of their field—losing all of the dollars that went into those crops. So we believe that if we can raise it to a level of 1.0, it will provide a lot more flexibility, and at the same time, what Congress was intending by that 0.3 [THC limit], was that people would not consume intoxicating hemp products. So while the testing in the field is 1.0, the testing in the final product has to still remain under 0.3 percent THC so that the intoxicating products are limited to adult-use markets and not sold as hemp at gas stations and vape stores.”

The 10-year ban on felons is particularly frustrating, given that hemp by definition is the non-drug form of cannabis. “It was something that got inserted at the last minute—over our strong objections […],”  Miller said.”

“Hemp is a legal crop, and if you’ve done your time for an offense, you should be able to grow a legal crop,” Miller said. “There are no prohibitions on ex-felons for growing corn or soybeans or you name it.”

In Congresswoman Pingree’s home state of Maine, hemp production is at a standstill because it can’t be tested or due to other regulatory setbacks. While over 2,000 acres of hemp were planted in Maine in 2019, only 111 farmers received licenses to grow hemp in 2020, accounting for just 211 acres. 

Hemp—which is grown in every Maine county—is highly useful as a textile, food or fuel. 

Congresswoman Pingree reaffirmed her support for the nation’s hemp farmers and hemp-derived CBD businesses—that face burdens unique to the industry. 

Earlier this year, Pingree joined her colleagues in reintroducing the bipartisan Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act, with a goal to provide a regulatory pathway for the legal sale of hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) as dietary supplements. 

Congresswoman Pingree also led a bipartisan effort in 2019 to push the Food and Drug Administration to establish a regulatory pathway for food products containing hemp-derived CBD. She also voted to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE) Act in December 2020, which would decriminalize cannabis and end prohibition at the federal level.

This bill is supported by the following:

  • U.S. Hemp Roundtable
  • American Herbal Products Association
  • Americans for Safe Access
  • Association of Western Hemp Professionals
  • Friends of Hemp
  • Hemp Alliance of Tennessee
  • Hemp Industries Association
  • iHemp Michigan
  • Realm of Caring Foundation, Inc.
  • U.S. Hemp Authority
  • U.S. Hemp Building Association
  • Veterinary Cannabis Society
  • Virginia Hemp Coalition
  • Wisconsin Hemp Alliance

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Mitch McConnell Calls SAFE Banking Act to Allow Weed Banking ‘Poison Pill’

The political climate is divisive as ever as the Senate Minority Leader ramped up verbal attacks directed at cannabis banking reform.

On February 7, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) slammed the Democrat majority in the House for voting to include the SAFE Banking Act in a broad spending bill. McConnell called the SAFE Banking Act, the provision that allows for cannabis banking, a “poison pill.”

On February 4, the majority of the members in the House of Representatives voted to approve The America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act of 2022 (America COMPETES Act), which includes the provisions of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

The COMPETES Act is intended, in part, to help the U.S. compete with China—which in 2021 surpassed the US as the world’s richest nation, thanks to semiconductor manufacturing and education.

This occasion marks the sixth time that the House advanced the SAFE Banking Act to the Senate either as an amendment or as a stand-alone bill. The Act was introduced as an amendment by the bill’s sponsor, Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), to allow banks and other financial institutions to cater to state-legal cannabis businesses.

“China has been steadily building up its military and economic might, and the Democrats’ answer is to help Americans get high,” McConnell said in a condescending tone, while giving remarks today on the Senate floor concerning China.

“Democrats plan to combat [opioid overdoses] is more marijuana on the side,” he said on the Senate floor. “Needless to say, this is not a winning strategy for global competition between great powers.”

“Any Democrats hoping to yank the bill to the far left, or insert poison pills, are badly, badly mistaken,” McConnell said. That statement isn’t correct, because the issue of cannabis isn’t exactly part of an agenda—it’s a bipartisan issue, according to recent polling data compiled by Rasmussen Reports. The majority of both Democrats and Republicans now support legalizing cannabis, let alone banking for cannabis businesses.

Organizations such as the U.S. Cannabis Council are not allowing McConnell to dismiss cannabis reform in that manner—especially not critical legislation like the SAFE Banking Act. That’s because in the meantime, strings of robberies plague dispensaries, simply because they are forced to deal in cash.

“Cannabis isn’t a punchline,” U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins said in a statement obtained by High Times. “It’s a rapidly growing industry that supports over 300,000 American jobs and is on track to reach $30 billion in revenue this year. Cannabis is agriculture, technology, finance, science, medicine, and yes, recreation.

“What’s more, the SAFE Banking Act isn’t about Americans getting high. It’s about public safety and fairness. It’s about providing basic banking services to small, minority and veteran-owned businesses and not forcing a multi-billion dollar industry to conduct business entirely in cash.

“Thirty-seven states, and growing, have regulated cannabis businesses. Subjecting this rapidly-growing industry to unfair banking restrictions absolutely makes America less competitive, and less safe.

“We are encouraged by the strong bipartisan support for the SAFE Banking Act in both chambers. We look forward to substantively engaging Congressional leaders from both parties on its merits and are optimistic that it will pass this session.”

Senate Minority Leader McConnell isn’t the only top leader stalling cannabis reform, according to Senator Perlmutter. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), he says, insists that federal legalization should address social equity before being considered. The supermajority of Americans now support cannabis reform, and leaders should take note.

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