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For about 162 years, marijuana and hemp were commonly and legally grown in the United States.

Hemp fiber, although derived from a cannabis varietal, contains little to no THC—0.3 percent or less in both the European Union and Canada—and it cannot get a person high. It has been used for centuries to make things like rope, cloth, paper and food. Our founding fathers grew hemp; the Model T was partially made from hemp, and hemp was even used as animal feed.

In the 1930s, the cultivation of hemp was curtailed in the U.S. A combination of big-money interests, including Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon—a major investor in DuPont—sought to make hemp illegal to make room for the synthetic (plastic) fiber industry—which, of course, also benefited the oil industry. Hemp paper posed a threat to the timber industry, too. However, since hemp was such a part of the American consciousness, it needed to be rebranded and demonized.

Enter the term marihuana (marijuana), then a rather obscure Mexican slang word for cannabis containing THC. The government and its allies in big business were able to use what we would today call “fake news” to create horror stories about cannabis use, including movies like Reefer Madness, a 1936 film that shows “reefer” driving people to become murderers.

In 1937, the Prohibitive Marihuana Tax Law was quickly moved through Congress. Because the public did not understand that hemp and “marihuana” had been looped together as the same thing—this was well before you could fact-check news on the internet—there was virtually no public outcry, despite opposition from the American Medical Association.

In the 1970s, the Controlled Substances Act further criminalized cannabis, even classifying industrial hemp as a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal to grow or even research the uses of hemp.

The war on cannabis has now been going on for more than 80 years. For most of this time, the hemp industry has been working to decriminalize the growth of industrial hemp by actively working to decouple it from marijuana. However, that’s changed, as states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis—meaning the hemp industry is now in the process of re-hitching its wagon to a star.

As recently as 2015, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a leading industry trade organization, estimated that retail sales of hemp products in the U.S. totaled $573 million—largely using imported hemp. Hemp can be used not only for food, textiles and personal care, but also car parts, biodiesel, construction materials and many other things. From an environmental prospective, hemp just makes sense: One acre of hemp plants, grown in just three months, can yield as much paper as four acres of trees that have been planted for years. One acre of hemp can also provide as much fabric as two to three acres of cotton—while using a fraction of the pesticides. Hemp can also be carbon-neutral, as carbon that is released from burning hemp as fuel is reabsorbed by the next crop of plants as they grow.

Good news is on the horizon: A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill—legislation totaling more than 1,000 pages dealing with everything from farm subsidies to food stamps—paves the way for the legalization of industrial growth. The bill is due to be voted on by the full Senate before its July 4 recess, and although it would only block federal authorities from punishing hemp farmers and researchers in states where industrial hemp is legal, it is the first meaningful reform we have seen in decades. Even ultra conservatives like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnelll, a Kentucky Republican, are pushing for hemp legalization.

“I know there are farming communities all over the country who are interested in this,” McConnell said about hemp as the bill passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee via a 20-1 vote on June 13. “… Younger farmers in my state are particularly interested in going in this direction. We have a lot of people in my state who are extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities. As we all know, hemp is very diversified.”

This is huge news. America’s attitude toward cannabis production from both an industrial and recreational/medical perspective is rapidly evolving—and we may finally see a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the commercial cultivation of hemp.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The National Conference of State Legislatures, citing the wave of legalization and the explosion of a new industry in its wake, on Aug. 7 passed a resolution urging the federal government to remove cannabis from Controlled Substances Act scheduling completely.

Marijuana’s Schedule I status prohibits marijuana-based businesses from having access to the standard banking practices afforded all other businesses, because FDIC-insured banks can face federal penalties for dealing with businesses related to Schedule I substances. This has resulted in a multi-billion dollar industry that operates almost completely in cash. Aside from the obvious security concerns caused by keeping a ton of cash around, it also means shops can’t take credit debit or credit cards; they can’t have normal real estate mortgages; and they have no access to small business loans. Oh, and state tax collectors are continually faced with cartoonish bags of cash.

The NCSL resolution recognizes this problem with the fifth “whereas.” The important part:

“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the National Conference of State Legislatures believes that the Controlled Substances Act should be amended to remove cannabis from scheduling, thus enabling financial institutions the ability to provide banking services to cannabis related businesses; and be it further resolved, that the National Conference of State Legislatures acknowledges that each of its members will have differing and sometimes conflicting views of cannabis and how to regulate it, but in allowing each state to craft its own regulations, we may increase transparency, public safety, and economic development where it is wanted.”

To nobody’s surprise, the Marijuana Policy Project applauded the move.

“State legislators and the vast majority of voters agree that marijuana policy should be left to the states,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a press release. “Legitimate, taxpaying marijuana businesses should not have to face the difficulties of operating on a cash-only basis. Allowing banks to offer them financial services will be good for the industry and benefit public safety. Even more so, states should not have to worry about the federal government interfering with their marijuana policy choices.”

Upon hearing news of the resolution, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly dropped to the ground, pounded his fists, kicked his feet and wailed: “NO! NO! NO! Marijuana BAD BAD BAD!” (OK, not really, but it would not surprise us if that really happened.)


California Growers Prove It’s Possible to Have Too Much Weed

Flying in the face of centuries of pothead orthodoxy, California growers are proving there is indeed such a thing as having too much weed.

With medical marijuana sales on the rise, and the sale of cannabis for recreational use coming to fruition in January, California growers have increased production in preparation for a huge increase in demand. After all, Nevada was completely unprepared for recreational sales, and the whole state ran out of weed. But now it’s coming to light that California growers may have overcompensated just a bit.

Depending on whom you ask, California growers are growing an estimated three to 12 times more bud than California needs, based on current demand and projections. Even the conservative end of the spectrum equates to a ton of extra bud. Add to that further restrictions (and enforcement) on interstate marijuana commerce going into effect Jan. 1, and people in the industry are starting to wonder what to do with all that weed. 

"We are producing too much," said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers' Association, according to the Los Angeles Times. “(Growers) are going to have to scale back. We are on a painful downsizing curve.”

Allen delivered his assessment to the Sacramento Press Club as part of a panel discussion. The panel also included Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s shiny new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, and Joseph Devlin, chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement for city of Sacramento.

This will surely lead to prices dropping across the Golden State. While this is great for the retail customer, it does not bode well for the massive mega-grows popping up around the Coachella Valley and elsewhere. With operations like Sunniva’s Cathedral City campus hoping to produce 90 tons of product in 2018, and Desert Hot Springs licensing millions of square feet for cultivation, let’s hope interstate cannabis commerce can become a reality sooner than later.

Otherwise we’re all going to need to start doing our part to get rid of all that weed, somehow. … Got a light?


Palm Springs Sends Cannabis Tax Measure to Voters

Palm Springs has a pension crisis looming, and the City Council is scrambling to make sure the city’s debts are covered.

In November, not only is the city asking voters for a half-cent sales-tax increase; the City Council voted unanimously to send a marijuana tax measure to ballot.

The measure sets the annual tax for cultivation facilities at $10 per square foot. In preparation for recreational sales going live in January, it would also put a tax structure in place for recreation retail businesses.

Dispensaries and other marijuana businesses would be taxed at a rate of 15 cents per $1 (or 15 percent). This rate would apply to recreational and medical retail sales alike. The City Council could vote to lower this rate, but would require approval of four-fifths of the council to increase the rate.

Drug-prevention programs and public safety are mentioned in the ballot measure, but it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see the city channeling these funds to help out with the pension crisis on the horizon.

Published in Cannabis in the CV