Bill safeguarding medical cannabis states from federal interference gets green light in the Senate

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

At the end of October, the Senate gave a chunk of spending legislation the green light. The legislation includes a medical cannabis provision that shields legal states from federal interference.

Although promising, it remains uncertain as to whether or not the final bill will contain extended protections to cover each state’s active cannabis programs. The final bill would be sent to President Donald Trump for review.

An 84 to 9 vote in favor of the bill pushes it to the next stage for further consideration. Various aspects of spending legislation are included in what has been dubbed the “minibus” appropriations legislation.

The legislation comprises funding for Agriculture, Commerce, Environment, Housing, Justice, Interior, Military Construction, Rural Development, Science, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the Food and Drug Administration; in addition to a fresh batch of language associated with hemp and CBD.

Medical cannabis provision protects compliant individuals from being prosecuted

If the medical cannabis provision is effectuated, the Department of Justice would be forbidden from allocating resources to prosecuting anyone who is complying with state cannabis laws. The rider was initiated in 2014 and has been renewed on an annual basis ever since.

“It’s our hope that the House will insist that today’s minibus appropriations package includes the provision to restrict the Department of Justice from interfering with state-legal marijuana programs that passed with bipartisan support,” said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML.

Banks that work with cannabis companies stand to be protected

Aside from the medical cannabis provision, an appropriations bill also gained approval in the House. The bill would protect banks that provide their services to businesses in the cannabis industry. Moreover, the bill eliminated a rider that formerly prevented the District of Columbia from launching a legal cannabis market.

The Republican-steered Senate may not consider updating appropriations legislation with the updated policy riders. However, there is a chance that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act will get a look-in; a bill that would make it impossible for federal regulators to punish banks for servicing cannabis businesses.

During September, the legislation was approved by the House. The Senate Banking Committee expects that it will be introduced before 2020 is over.

Hemp provision also gains momentum

This year’s spending legislation also saw regulations for a legal hemp program go into full effect. It will be funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). News of the hemp provision emerged as part of the minibus legislation recently approved.

Also included in the legislation were provisions prompting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prepare and enforce discretion rules for CBD. With guidelines of this kind put into place, the Farm Credit Administration would be influenced to support hemp businesses, as well as press the Administration to back “competitive USDA grants for hemp projects.”

“The FDA has been dragging its feet to issue the guidance required following the legalization of hemp-derived CBD,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), told Marijuana Moment. “This is about helping Oregon’s hemp industry continue to create jobs, protecting consumers and putting an end to the regulatory confusion and uncertainty. This language again shows that the Senate is serious about the FDA doing its job.”

The timing of these hemp riders is convenient, due to the fact that interim rules – of which will be effectuated after a 60-day public comment stage – were released recently by the USDA on Thursday, October 31.

“Hemp farmers, processors and manufacturers are exploring the crop’s great potential, and I’m proud to work with them every step of the way. As federal and state governments continue to develop how to best support this industry, I’ll keep working to benefit Kentucky producers and ensure hemp is treated just like any other legal commodity,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a press release. “Ensuring law enforcement can differentiate between industrial hemp and its illicit cousin is critical, and I’ll continue working with the DEA and other federal agencies so hemp can be treated the same as any other legal commodity.”