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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 20, 2014

    South Carolina lawmakers have approved legislation, Senate Bill 839, reclassifying varieties of cannabis possessing minute quantities of THC as an industrial crop rather than a controlled substance. The measure states, “It is lawful for an individual to cultivate, produce, or otherwise grow industrial hemp in this State to be used for any lawful purpose, including, but not limited to, the manufacture of industrial hemp products, and scientific, agricultural, or other research related to other lawful applications for industrial hemp.”

    Members of the Senate voted 42 to zero in favor of the bill. House members late last week also approved the measure by a vote of 72 to 28. Senate Bill 839 now awaits action by Republican Governor Nikki Haley.

    In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal Farm Bill (aka the United States Agricultural Act of 2014) authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since that time, lawmakers in five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation allowing for state-sponsored hemp cultivation.

    On Monday, Illinois Senate members unanimously approved similar legislation, House Bill 5085, in their state. Members of the House had previously voted 70 to 28 in favor of an earlier version of the bill. Once both chambers agree to concurrent language, the measure will go to the Governor’s desk.

    In total, more than a dozen states have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop.

    Last week, Kentucky state officials sued the US Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency refused to turn over a shipment of hemp seeds that were intended to be used as part of a state-approved research program. State officials designed the program to be compliant with Section 7606 of the federal farm bill. A federal hearing in the matter is scheduled for Wednesday, May 21.

    According to the U.S. Congressional Resource Service, the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director May 17, 2014

    Earlier this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration ordered that 250 pounds of hemp seed be seized at Louisville Airport in Kentucky. The seeds were being imported by the Kentucky government from Italy to plant at state universities in their hemp pilot program. Kentucky legalized industrial hemp in 2013 and the federal government approved legislation this year that allowed states to engage in limited hemp cultivation.

    When the DEA refused to return the seeds under reasonable conditions, the Kentucky Agriculture Department filed suit against the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Attorney General Eric Holder.

    On Friday, there was a preliminary hearing regarding the lawsuit. During the hearing, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II stated that the DEA must explicitly state what would need to be done for those participating in the pilot program to have the seeds returned. Federal officials responded that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture must fill out a narcotics license in addition to providing memorandum of agreement with the departments of universities planning to cultivate the crop.

    In an interview discussing the hearing with the Huffington Post, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer stated, “It sounds like a victory, but I’m not going to declare victory until those seeds go in the ground. It was very positive today. But we’ve felt pretty good throughout this entire process over the last several weeks, and the DEA would come back and change again. I’m not celebrating. It will be a victory when I have those seeds in hand.”

    Elected officials across the state have voiced their support for the hemp program and decried the actions of federal officials. US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated, “It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds.”

    According to the Congressional Resource Service, the US is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. However, in February, members of Congress for the first time approved language in the omnibus federal Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of the plant.

    The next court hearing is expected to occur on Wednesday, May 21. NORML will keep you updated as the situation evolves.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 6, 2014

    Federal agencies are moving forward with plans to increase the US government’s production of research-grade cannabis.

    Last week, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) publicly announced in the Federal Register that it is increasing its marijuana production quota from 21 kilograms to 650 kilograms (about 1,443 pounds) in order to meet increasing demand for the plant from clinical investigators.

    Federal regulations permit a farm at the University of Mississippi to cultivate set quantities of cannabis for use in federally approved clinical trials. Regulators at the DEA, the US Food and Drug Administration, PHS (Public Health Service), and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse must approve any clinical protocol seeking to study the plant’s effects in human subjects.

    On various occasions, marijuana reform advocates and researchers have publicly criticized NIDA for failing to approve proposed trials seeking to assess the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. However, in March, federal regulators finally signed off on a long-delayed clinical protocol from researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine to evaluate the use of cannabis its in war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. Also this spring, lawmakers in several states, including Alabama, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, passed legislation encouraging state-sponsored clinical trials to assess the therapeutic potential of cannabidiol – a nonpsychotropic organic component of cannabis – in the treatment of intractable epilepsy.

    “The additional supply [of cannabis] to be manufactured in 2014 is designed to meet the current and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana,” A NIDA spokesperson told TheHill.com. “[T]his projection of increased demand is due in part to the recent increased interest in the possible therapeutic uses of marijuana.”

    According to a keyword search using the terms ‘smoked marijuana’ on the clinicaltrials.gov website, eight trials are presently ongoing to evaluate the plant’s effects in humans. Two of these trials are assessing the plant’s potential therapeutic efficacy.

  • by Sabrina Fendrick November 22, 2013

    imgresOn Thursday November 21, US law enforcement agents, along with local police officers raided 14  medical marijuana locations around Colorado (including dispensaries, grow warehouses and 2 private residences), making it one of the largest federal raids since the state’s medical marijuana laws went into effect.  A search warrant identifies 10 target subjects, noting alleged violations to the latest DOJ memo dealing with state pot laws that contradict federal policy.

    On August 29th, the Justice Department issued a memo to federal prosecutors indicating it wouldn’t interfere with legal marijuana businesses that are acting compliance with state law, so long as they strictly adhere to eight specific areas of concern such as preventing distribution to minors and cultivation on public lands.  Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice in Denver said that “there are strong indications that more than one of the eight federal prosecution priorities identified in the Department of Justice’s August guidance memo are potentially implicated.”  Two of those violations appear to include trafficking marijuana outside of states where it has been legalized and money laundering.  No arrests have been made in this case as of yet.

    Many of the locations raided on Thursday had multiple marijuana-related businesses at a single address.  According to the Denver Post, “Investigators believe the businesses that were raided are all “one big operation…[and that] those targeted in the raids had been actively purchasing area dispensaries and growhouses over a sustained period of time.”

    Juan Guardarrama, One of the named targets, is known to have a criminal history with potential ties to Cuban and Colombian drug gangs, according to the Miami Herald.  In 2012 Guardarrama, who is also referred to as “Tony Montana” from the Al Pacino movie “Scarface,” asked undercover police officers to transport his CO-grown marijuana to Florida and?to?”take out”?his?partner.  He pleaded guilty earlier this year in Miami in a racketeering case.

    This case clearly has a lot of moving parts, and more information is needed to understand the full scope of the situation.  But, if evidence proves that there have been large-scale violations to any of the recent DOJ memo’s eight areas of concern, one can’t be surprised that the federal government would act in accordance to its own guidelines.  As more information emerges, the public will get a better understanding of the story and the alleged players involved in this operation.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 9, 2013

    DEA seizures of indoor and outdoor cannabis crops declined dramatically from 2011 to 2012 and are now at their lowest reported levels in nearly a decade, according to statistics released online by the federal anti-drug agency.

    According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2012 Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Statistical Report, the total number of cannabis plants eradicated nationwide fell 42 percent between 2011 and 2012. This continues a trend, as DEA crop seizures previously fell 35 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2011.

    In 2010, the DEA eliminated some 10.3 million cultivated pot plants. (This figure excludes the inclusion of feral hemp plants, tens of millions of which are also typically seized and destroyed by DEA agents annually, but are no longer categorized in their reporting.) By 2011, this total had dipped to 6.7 million. For 2012, the most recent year for which DEA data is available, the total fell to 3.9 million — the lowest annual tally in nearly a decade.

    The declining national figures are largely a result of reduced plant seizures in California. Coinciding largely with the downsizing of, and then ultimately the disbanding of, the state’s nearly 30-year-old Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) program, DEA-assisted marijuana seizures in the Golden State have fallen 73 percent since 2010 — from a near-record 7.4 million cultivated pot plants eradicated in 2010 to approximately 2 million in 2012. DEA-assisted cannabis eradication efforts have remained largely unchanged in other leading grow states during this same period.

    The DEA’s 2012 Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Statistical Report is available online here.

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