The battle for safe, legal access to marijuana is not simply limited to those who require it medically or want to indulge for recreation.
Currently, the wide-sweeping federal ban on the plant also encompasses the production of industrial hemp, a product that has proven incredibly versatile and useful. However, our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers know that its use has been tightly restricted, despite the fact that 10 states have pleaded with federal authorities to ease their stance.
It appears today those interest groups may finally have a good shot at success, with the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (Senate Bill 359 and House Resolution 525) are pending in both chambers. Additionally, an amendment to the Farm Bill, cosponsored by a Republican from Kentucky and a Democrat from Oregon, passed the House in July and is now slated for a hearing before a joint House-Senate conference committee.
At a recent Capitol Hill briefing, intended for clarification of the Justice Department’s updated policy directive concerning legal and medical marijuana, both federal and state elected officials reported that their interpretation was that the directive also extended to hemp production.
That directive, you may recall, was publicly announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and was in response to the passage of laws in Washington and Colorado that by popular vote allowed the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. Holder said the approach would be “trust but verify,” meaning that the DOJ would reserve the right to file a preemption lawsuit, as the substance continues to be illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. However, the agency would not pursue enforcement action in states where state and local governments have enacted effective regulatory and enforcement systems to address any issues that might pose a threat to public health, safety or other law enforcement concerns.
So long as the controls are effective in practice and not just on paper, Holder indicated, his office wouldn’t intervene.
What that means for hemp production isn’t entirely clear, as Holder didn’t address this aspect specifically.
In Kentucky, where lawmakers have been working hard to pass laws that would allow industrial hemp production, elected leaders reasoned that hemp had only ever been banned because of its classification as belonging in the cannabis family. Holder’s announcement, they said, pertained to the regulatory framework for cannabis. Therefore, they are confident that the legislation as it is written will be effective from the standpoint of keeping federal prosecutors and law enforcement at bay as they seek to legalize hemp for industrial purposes. This has continued to be a key point of contention in getting these measures to pass.
Still, backers of the hemp legislation say that they intend to send a formal letter to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, informing them of the specific intentions for hemp production starting as early as next year.
In Kentucky, legislators hope hemp production will replace tobacco production, which has declined sharply in recent years in response to public health concerns. The hope is that hemp will become a cash crop that will stimulate jobs and create useful products that will prove beneficial for society as a whole.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
Hemp in the Time of New Federal Marijuana Policy, Sept. 14, 2013, By Phillip Smith, The Daily Chronic
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Felony Marijuana Crimes in Washington State Targeted by Advocates, Sept. 5, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog