November 2023 National News Update: A Monthly Dive into Potential Shifts

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Get ready to dive into the freshest insights involving the cannabis landscape with CWCBExpo’s latest national news update. This month unfolds with a U.S. senator’s call for Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) action, a Gallup poll unveiling record-high support for federal cannabis legalization, and Congressional Democrats seeking more federal regulatory guidance for cannabis business owners.


Senator pushes DEA to act on cannabis rescheduling 


In a recent letter, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) urged the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to expedite the rescheduling of cannabis, a recommendation which was put forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2023. 


In the letter, which was addressed to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, Gillibrand expressed her belief in the complete descheduling of cannabis and emphasized the immediate necessity of rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). 


“Marijuana is simply not comparable to other Schedule I substances like heroin, LSD, and MDMA. Moreover, marijuana enforcement has, for decades, disproportionately targeted communities of color,” Gillibrand stated in a press release. “This means that people of color are more likely to have criminal records for marijuana possession and to face needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities as a result. It is past time to end overly restrictive federal marijuana policy and I urge the DEA to do so immediately.”


The full content of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to the DEA is available here


Public support for cannabis legalization reaches an all-time high


According to a new Gallup poll, seven in 10 Americans support cannabis legalization, an all-time high since the Washington, DC-based analytics and advisory company began polling on the topic in 1969. 


In the first poll, conducted in 1969, only 12% of respondents supported cannabis reform. This year, 70 percent of U.S. adults say cannabis should be legal for adult consumption. It’s the first time support for legalization has increased since 2020, up from 68 percent in favor of legalization during the past three years of polling.


For the second year in a row, majority support for legalization was found among all demographics, including age, political party, and ideology. There were no notable differences in support by gender, race, or education. Only 29 percent of respondents said they think cannabis should not be legal, while one percent remain unsure. 


Democrats seek federal guidance for cannabis business owners with prior convictions 


A group of 20 Congressional Democrats have formally reached out to the Treasury Department urging a revision in guidance to alleviate constraints faced by cannabis business owners with prior convictions related to cannabis. 


Since 2014, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has directed financial institutions to consider various “red flags” before extending services to cannabis-related businesses. This includes all past cannabis criminal records and involvement in the illegal purchase or sale of cannabis, regardless of whether the act is now considered legal at the state level. Consequently, banks can view business owner’s convictions for simple cannabis possession as a reason not to provide financial services such as banking services or business loans, even in states where cannabis is now legal. 


The group of lawmakers — led by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) — conveyed their concerns in a letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and FinCEN Director Andrea Gacki underscoring the current guidance as “outdated.” 


“The updated guidance should clarify that if a marijuana-related act has been expunged, pardoned, is no longer illegal under state law, or is not disqualifying for obtaining a state marijuana license or permit … then financial institutions should not consider that offense a ‘red flag’ when conducting customer due diligence of marijuana businesses,” the lawmakers said in the letter.


USDA may revoke hemp licenses for cannabis farmers 


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking a firm stance on hemp cultivation, reportedly revoking licenses for farmers engaged in the simultaneous cultivation of cannabis within state-approved programs. 


Hemp cultivation was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, which enabled farmers across the country to begin producing hemp plants, defined as cannabis that contains 0.3% THC content or less. Since, some farmers in states where cannabis is legal have also begun cultivating marijuana containing higher levels of THC, something the USDA apparently wants to put a stop to. It’s unclear how many farmers have been contacted by USDA, however, the decision could have significant implications for farmers navigating the cultivation landscape. 


Vermont-based farmer Sam Bellavance told Seven Days that he received an email from a USDA official months after he began growing marijuana under his state’s program. According to Bellavance, the email notes, “regulations don’t allow for a hemp-licensee to also be producing marijuana, even if licensed to do so by a state program,” and went on to tell Bellavance he would need to surrender either his federal hemp license or his state recreational cannabis license.


With changes causing serious issues for cultivators, lawmakers, and industry stakeholders are considering potential changes to the next large-scale agriculture legislation to better serve hemp farmers. This includes proposals to free up hemp businesses to legally market products like CBD as dietary supplements and to remove industry restrictions on people with certain prior drug convictions.


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