The top Republican in the U.S. House has issued a surprise endorsement of a key marijuana ingredient’s medical benefits as well as the uses of industrial hemp.
“It has proven to work,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said of cannabidiol (CBD) on Tuesday, specifying that it “helps reduce seizures.”
“We do this in Wisconsin,” he said, referring to his home state’s limited CBD law. “That that oil, I think works well.”
The speaker, who is not running for reelection and is retiring from Congress early next year, shared that his own mother-in-law used a synthetic form of cannabinoids, presumably the THC pill Marinol, while dying from melanoma and ovarian cancer.
“That’s off the record,” he said jokingly, referencing TV cameras at the well-attended Kentucky rally where he was appearing in support of Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), who is locked in a tight reelection race.
Ryan, responding to a medical marijuana question from a woman whose husband passed away, also proactively took the opportunity to speak up in support of industrial hemp.
“And by the way, there’s a lot of industrial uses for hemp that I understand from talking to Mitch McConnell is a big deal to Kentucky agriculture,” he said. “And we’re all in favor of that as well.”
Ryan’s endorsement for hemp comes at a key time. Congressional leaders are currently negotiating differences in the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill. The Senate proposal contains language championed by McConnell, the GOP majority leader, that would legalize hemp. The House bill has no such provisions.
If the top Republican in either chamber is now vocally in support of ending the prohibition on marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin, it seems more and more likely that the House will accept the Senate’s hemp language.
That said, don’t count the outgoing speaker as a die-hard marijuana supporter, even when it comes to medical uses.
“Theres no THC in that oil,” he said, even though most CBD preparations do have small amounts of the intoxicating cannabis compound. “That is not medical marijuana.”
In response to the medical marijuana question, Ryan also touted passage this year of the Right to Try Act—which appears to allow certain seriously ill people to use marijuana and other currently illegal drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA, though he did not mention those implications directly.
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In the latest development in a series of anti-cannabis moves, congressional Republican leadership has blocked consideration of several industrial hemp amendments.
Supporters were seeking to attach the measures to the large-scale Farm Bill, which sets food and agriculture policy for the country, but the House Rules Committee on Wednesday decided that the proposals cannot be considered on the floor.
The anti-cannabis chairman of the panel did, however, reveal that a broader deal for industrial hemp might be in the works.
One of the measures the committee killed, submitted by Reps. James Comer (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with a bipartisan list of cosponsors, would have legalized hemp and made it eligible for crop insurance.
“Hemp is a crop with a long and rich history in our country,” Comer said in introducing his amendment before the committee. “It was grown by many of our founding fathers.”
Comer, who is a former Kentucky agriculture commissioner, said his state’s existing industrial hemp research program, which is authorized under a previous Farm Bill enacted in 2014, “has been a great success.”
He also spoke about the economic potential of the plant. “Times are tough in rural america,” he said. “For rural Kentuckians, industrial hemp has provided a new crop and business opportunity.”
But in a party-line move, the committee voted 8 to 3 to reject a motion to add Comer’s amendment to the list of proposals approved for floor consideration.
Another hemp amendment, filed by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Jared Polis (D-CO), would have removed hemp from the list of federally banned substances.
A third proposal, submitted by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), sought to create “a safe harbor for financial institutions that provide services to hemp legitimate businesses” that operate under state-authorized research programs.
“There is a proud history in American and in Kentucky [for hemp] as an agriculture product,” Barr said when testifying for his amendment, noting that it can be used in over 25,000 products.
Under current law, banks that work with legitimate hemp companies “fear reprisal from federal regulators,” Barr said, arguing that his proposed measure would protect financial institutions “from unnecessary interference from bank examiners and regulators” and give producers rights that “every other American crop enjoys.”
The committee did not hold specific votes on those two measures.
Sessions, seemingly mistakenly, told Comer during the Wednesday hearing that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has “a clause…that industrial hemp should be declassified under their Schedule I drugs, which they concur, which is the position you hold, too.”
A hemp lobbyist told Marijuana Moment in an email that he had not heard of the DEA taking a pro-hemp position.
Polis, who as a Rules Committee member made the unsuccessful motion to let the full House vote on Comer’s amendment, argued that hemp is a “common sense area” that enjoys bipartisan support. The measure, he said, would simply “treat industrial hemp as the agricultural commodity that it is.”
While Sessions and other GOP panel members were not swayed, the chairman did hint just before the vote that there may still be hope for hemp reform, saying that the issue would be “determined by an agreement that would be reached” with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
McConnell last month filed a hemp legalization bill, which Comer’s amendment closely modeled. Fully a fifth of the Senate is now signed on as cosponsoring that legislation, and the majority leader has already announced plans to attach his hemp language to the version of the Farm Bill being considered by the Senate this month.
While it is unclear what exactly Sessions was suggesting when he referred to an “agreement” with McConnell, it may have been a reference to the conference committee process that will merge the House and Senate’s respective versions of the Farm Bill into a single proposal after each chamber passes its legislation. If McConnell succeeds in attaching hemp legalization to the Senate bill, it would then be up for consideration as part of the final legislation sent to President Trump for signing into law.
In 2014, McConnell successfully inserted a provision to prevent federal interference in hemp research programs in that year’s version of the Farm Bill.
A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers submitted three far-reaching cannabis amendments to a House agricultural bill on Friday. Two of the measures would legalize hemp, a non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana, and another would allow banks to provide financial services to hemp businesses.
The first, introduced by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Jared Polis (D-CO), would remove hemp from the list of federally banned substances.
A second measure, submitted by Reps. James Comer (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with Polis, would also legalize hemp in an approach similar to pending legislation recently filed in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Another proposal, submitted by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), seeks to amend the pending Farm Bill by creating “a safe harbor for financial institutions that provide services to hemp legitimate businesses” that operate under state-authorized research programs in accordance with the provisions of an earlier version of the Farm Bill that was enacted in 2014.
The House members’ amendments will be put up for consideration by the body’s Rules Committee next week; but that panel is headed by chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has routinely declined to allow floor votes on cannabis-related measures. Whether or not Sessions clears the cannabis measures for consideration, the overall Farm Bill is expected to go before the full House later next week.
McConnell’s stepped up push for hemp legalization could spur his party colleagues in the other chamber to allow one or more of the amendments to move forward. But even if House action does not occur, cannabis provisions could still make it into the final version of the Farm Bill. That’s because the Senate majority leader has already said he intends to insert the text of his standalone hemp bill into his chamber’s version of the legislation this month. That means the language would be up for consideration by the bicameral conference committee that later merges the House and Senate bills into one proposal to be sent to President Trump.
In 2014, McConnell successfully attached language to prevent federal interference in hemp research in that year/s version of the Farm Bill.
It's time the federal gov changes the way it looks at #hemp, which is why Senator @RonWyden and I, along with @SenJeffMerkley, are introducing legislation that will modernize federal law in this area & empower American farmers to explore this promising new market.
“Who knows how big it could be,” McConnell said in an interview last month, referring to the economic potential of hemp for rural states. “Tobacco was awfully big. I don’t know whether it could be that big or not. But there won’t be an argument about whether it’s not good for you.”
“The momentum for hemp farming is growing fast and has great potential to generate job and economic development,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, told Marijuana Moment in an email. “The three proposed hemp amendments to the Farm Bill will help advance the industry and we strongly support them.”
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