Georgia Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill Into Law

Georgia’s governor has signed into law a bill that allows patients who can legally possess low-THC marijuana oil for medical purchases to now purchase it legally.

Governor Brian Kemp signed the measure on Wednesday, calling the new law a “carefully crafted, balanced” measure that would expand access for patients.

“Instead of crossing state lines, breaking numerous laws in the process, these families can now stay in our great state,” said Kemp. “We are ensuring that these families can purchase what works for their loved ones without creating a slippery slope.”

According to the Associated Press, the legislation allows the in-state production and sale of the marijuana oil and closes a loophole in a 2015 law that banned growing, buying and selling the drug but allowed certain patients to possess it.

Current state law allows people with 16 specific conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and cancer, to possess cannabis oil with less than 5% THC. Accirding ti Kemp’s spokesman, Cody Hall, the new law takes effect July 1.

It grants up to six growing licenses to private companies — two for larger organizations and four for smaller organizations. “It also gives pharmacies priority for distributing the drug, but allows a state commission to seek out independent retail locations if it determines there is a need”, reports the AP. “The commission can also attempt to legally obtain the oil from other states. Two universities will be allowed to seek federal approval to research and produce the oil.”

The Republican-controlled legislature approved the measure despite objection from many Georgia sheriffs, who “absolutely do not support” allowing so many private producers to grow marijuana to produce the oil, said Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association.

“This bill is a decisive step toward recreational marijuana whether our leadership at the state level agrees or not,” Norris said, adding that he’s concerned about low regulation and over-production of the drug. Norris said he hopes the state commission overseeing the production and distribution of the oil will be vigilant about these issues.

Republican Rep. Micah Gravley of Douglasville, the bill’s author, has repeatedly denied his bill will lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Thirty-four states already have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Georgia is among at least 12 other states that allow patients to possess a lower potency form of the drug.

“Overall, it’s a step forward. History has been made in Georgia,” said Corey Lowe, who has been using the oil to contain her teenage daughter’s seizures since 2014.

“A lot of people said it’s the Bible Belt, we’re in the South. Everything was against us,” said Lowe. She added: “I just thought that it wouldn’t be in my lifetime.”

Shannon Cloud came to the Capitol several times this session to advocate for the proposal. She arrived at the bill signing with her 13-year-old daughter, who her mother said suffers from seizures as a result of Dravet syndrome, a rare lifelong form of epilepsy that has also impaired her mental development.

Cloud said in a recent interview that she and other parents are satisfied with the measure and relieved to know they will have access to the drug.

There are currently about 8,400 people signed up on the program’s registry for a low THC Oil Registry Card.

“I think those numbers will jump up pretty quickly and more people will get help,” Cloud said. “A lot of people haven’t bothered to get the card because they don’t have a way to get (the drug).”

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Alabama Senate Committee Unanimously Passes Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

Legislation to decriminalize the possession of personal amounts of marijuana has been passed unanimously by an Alabama Senate committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted 11 to 0 to pass the marijuana decriminalization bill, sending it towards a vote by the full Senate. The vote marks a massive shift increase in support from just last year, when the committee passed the measure 6 to 4 (though it eventually stalled in the House). If passed by the full Senate, the measure would then need to pass the House of Representatives before it can be sent to Governor Kay Ivey (R) for consideration.

Under the proposed law, those caught possessing no more than an ounce of marijuana would be hit with, at most, a $250 fine for the first two offenses, and a $500 fine for subsequent offenses. As noted by Marijuana Moment, possession of more than an ounce but less than two ounces would be considered a class A misdemeanor, while possession of more than two ounces would be a class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The legislation could “decrease receipts” for the state government’s general fund from fines, according to a state fiscal note, but could also “decrease the obligations of local jails, the State General Fund, the district attorneys, the Department of Corrections, community corrections programs, and the Board of Pardons and Paroles by an undetermined amount dependent upon the number of persons charged with and convicted of the offenses provided by this bill and the penalties imposed.”

“It’s encouraging that even in one of the most conservative states in the country, lawmakers are recognizing that jailing marijuana consumers doesn’t make sense,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.

“North Carolina and Mississippi enacted similar reforms back in the 1970s,” she said. “Even a brief jail stay can be traumatic—or even deadly—and can disrupt housing and employment, with devastating consequences.”

The measure was introduced last month by Senator Bobby Singleton (D), who called the state’s current laws arbitrary.

“We can’t continue to send people to prison for petty crimes that are definitely nonviolent,” he told WHNT News 19 last month.

Below is a look at Alabama’s current marijuana possession laws:

Any Amount Deemed for Personal Use:

Penalty: Misdemeanor with up to 1 year in jail and/or a $6,000 fine

Other than Personal Use:

Penalty: Felony with 1 year and 1 day in prison mandatory with a 10 year maximum, and/or a $15,000 fine.

For further information on Alabama’s marijuana laws – including penalties for distribution and cultivation – click here. For recent updates to Alabama’s marijuana possession laws and other Alabama-related stories, click here.

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Industrial Hemp and USDA Organic Certification

We’ve written previously about the inability of cannabis companies to receive United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification for their products (although there are alternative state-level and private certifications available to fill this gap), but what some of our clients are unaware of is that the USDA will provide organic certification for qualified industrial hemp producers.

The USDA provided clarifying instructions in its September 2018 Instruction on Organic Certification of Industrial Hemp Production for the UDSA’s policy regarding the organic certification of industrial hemp production by certifying agents accredited by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). The UDSA first noted that Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the Farm Bill) authorized institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture to establish industrial hemp research pilot programs in states where the production of industrial hemp is legal and subject to certain other conditions.

The USDA’s official policy is that “[f]or hemp produced in the United States, only industrial hemp, produced in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill, as articulated in the Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp issued on August 12, 2016 by USDA, may be certified as organic, if produced in accordance with the USDA organic regulations.”

For industrial hemp producers operating in accordance with their state’s industrial hemp program, becoming a certified organic operation will be no different than for companies in any other industry. The USDA lays out five basic steps to attaining organic certification:

  1. The farm or business adopts organic practices, selects a USDA-accredited certifying agent, and submits an application and fees to the certifying agent.
  2. The certifying agent reviews the application to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations.
  3. An inspector conducts an on-site inspection of the applicant’s operation.
  4. The certifying agent reviews the application and the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations.
  5. The certifying agent issues organic certificate.

All certified organic farms and businesses must also undergo an annual review and inspection process.

It is important to remember that touting your hemp (or cannabis) as certified organic when it is not is illegal under federal law. As mentioned above, for cannabis businesses there are alternative certifications available via some states or via private third-party certification companies.

In California, for example, SB 94 mandated that the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) create an organic cannabis program by 2021. In 2018, the CDFA formed the “OCal” project, which is a four-person team within CalCannabis dedicated to establishing that organic cannabis program. The program will be similar to the National Organic Program (NOP). OCal is currently in the information-gathering stage and is set to begin soliciting input from stakeholders this month.

In short, it’s clear that both hemp and cannabis companies value organic principles and are seeking certification. The path to such certification is clear for qualifying industrial hemp companies, but for other cannabis companies, the options are much more limited.

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Washington State Senate Passes Bill to Allow Students to Use Medical Marijuana on School Property

Legislation to allow parents to administer limited forms of marijuana to their children on school property has passed the state Senate, along with a proposal for new marijuana testing rules.

CBD tincture.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers described the school bill as aimed at students that need medical marijuana for relief from chronic illnesses, reports the Associated Press. The bill would allow marijuana-infused products, but specifically bans smoking pot and products high in the psychoactive chemical THC. Instead, lawmakers said the bill was oriented toward allowing marijuana bred for its medicinal properties, including strains high in the non-intoxicating chemical CBD.

“THC is what recreational users use to get high,” said Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center. “You could eat CBD all day long and never cop a buzz.”

Both THC and CBD are present in varying amounts in most cannabis, but unlike recreational marijuana, most medical strains of the plant are bred to have little or none of the psychoactive chemical THC. Having parents administer the drug keeps school officials including nurses out of the equation, a response to questions over liability or licensure.

The bill also contains a trigger clause that would suspend the new rules if federal officials were to threaten schools’ funding over the issue, states the AP.

Senator Mike Padden, a Spokane Valley Republican, said he was concerned about potential unintended consequences, but the bill ultimately passed on a 41-4 vote, with strong support from other conservatives.

“I think it’s worth any risk that might be there,” said Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima Republican. “These families need our help.”

A proposed change to state marijuana testing rules also passed the Senate.

Testing marijuana for criteria such as strength, pesticide content, and presence of mold has been a subject of contention in emerging marijuana markets around the country, with marijuana producers sometimes making hard-to-verify claims on their packaging and advertising.

Under current Washington law, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board is charged with overseeing lab certifications, but a 2018 Washington Department of Ecology report found gaps in testing and accreditation rules, including a lack of detailed standards for labs.

Under a bill approved 44-1 by the Senate, oversight of marijuana labs would be transferred to the Department of Ecology, and work groups would be set up to study issues including pesticides in marijuana.

“In the nascency of the industry we had a lot of people pop up and say they were labs,” said Rivers. “It’s going to make for safer products.”

The proposal requires the ecology department to issue drafts of the new lab standards in 2020 and 2021.

Both bills had earlier passed House votes, meaning they now return to the House for final approval of amendments.

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Did the 2018 Farm Bill Open the Door to Importing Hemp?

We get a ton of questions about whether it’s legal to import hemp into the U.S. It’s a complicated question without a clear answer. We do know that the Drug Enforcement Administration has confirmed that the importation of cannabis plant material that falls outside of the Controlled Substance Act’s definition of “marihuana” (e.g., the mature stalks and seeds incapable of germination) is not in violation of the CSA or related laws and regulations specific to importing goods. That limited exception doesn’t cover other parts of the cannabis plant, including hemp flower. The 2014 Farm Bill allows for the limited cultivation of industrial hemp, but that bill requires that hemp be grown pursuant to an agricultural pilot program in compliance with state law. Hemp grown in another country can’t meet those inherently domestic requirements. The 2014 Farm Bill is still in effect as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) is preparing to regulate the commercial cultivation under the 2018 Farm Bill. However, the 2018 Farm Bill has already altered the CSA’s definition of marijuana to exclude hemp and that provision is not dependent on USDA regulation.

The complicated question was addressed in part in by a federal court in California. In November 2015, Innovative Nutraceuticals, LLC placed an order for hemp from Spain to L&M Natural Hemp. L&M shipped the Spanish-grown hemp along with documentation showing that the material contained in each package was cultivated from seeds certified from hemp in Spain and test results showing that the plant material contained 0.2% THC. On December 6, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) seized the hemp shipment at the Los Angeles International Airport. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) tested the shipment and found that it contained CBD.

Innovative Nutraceuticals filed a petition with CBP, seeking administrative review of the seizure. CBP denied the petition because CBD is a compound that naturally occurs in marijuana and therefore the shipment met the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”). CBP also stated that “hemp flowers” are not excluded from the CSA definition.

Despite this, Innovative Nutraceuticals continued to import hemp from Spain and CBP seized shipments in January and November of 2017. On March 14, 2018, CBP again seized an Innovative Nutraceuticals hemp shipment, this time at the Louisville, Kentucky airport. However, CBP informed Innovative Nutraceuticals that the shipment may be released if the company executed a “Hold Harmless Agreement” agreeing not to sue CBP for damages related to the seizure and requiring Innovative Nutraceuticals to pay costs for delivery or retrieval.

On July 2, 2018, Innovative Nutraceuticals filed a complaint against the United States of America in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeking the following claims for relief:

(1) an injunction and/or declaratory relief ordering the United States government [(the “Defendant”)] not to detain, seize, summarily forfeit, or destroy any future shipments of hemp plant materials containing [CBD] and/or 0.3% or less of [THC];

(2) an injunction and/or declaratory relief ordering Defendant to provide timely notice and a hearing to owners and shippers of detained or seized hemp materials;

(3) declaratory and injunctive relief ordering Defendant not to destroy and to return all seized hemp materials; and

(4) monetary reimbursement for all hemp materials seized and destroyed by Defendant.

In response, the government filed a motion to dismiss all of Innovative Nutraceuticals’ claims.

On March 28, 2019, the Court issued an order (available here, courtesy of Hemp Industry Daily) granting the government’s motion to dismiss Innovative Nutraceuticals’ first and second claim for mootness and granting dismissal of the fourth claim due to Innovative Nutraceuticals failure to identify the government’s waiver of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine saying you can’t sue the government for damages unless the government says you can.

In denying Innovative Nutraceuticals’ first and second claims, the Court determined the issue was moot. Under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, federal courts can only rule on actual, ongoing cases or controversies. The parties have to have some skin in the game in order for a federal court to have jurisdiction. Mootness occurs when one or more circumstances change making the controversy moot. This can happen due to a change in law, which is exactly why the Court denied Innovative Nutraceuticals first and second claims:

Section 12619 of the 2018 Farm Bill amended the CSA definition of marijuana so that it now includes an exemption for hemp, defined as “any part” of the Cannabis sativa L. plant “with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” Id. Under this new exemption, any future shipments of industrial hemp product containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight will clearly fall outside the CSA definition of marijuana and will not be subject to seizure.

[. . .]

Any uncertainty as to the legal status of Plaintiff’s shipments under the pre-2018 Farm Bill regime has since been eliminated by the Bill’s amendment of the CSA’s definition of marijuana.

The Court seems to indicate that future importers of hemp will no longer face the seizures that plagued Innovative Nutraceuticals. While makes sense given that hemp is excluded from the CSA’s definition of marijuana, it does not mean that CBP’s days of seizing hemp are over. The difference between hemp and marijuana is not obvious. It is determined based on the presence of a certain compound, THC. Hemp shipments may contain documentation showing that a product is hemp and not marijuana, but that doesn’t mean that the inquiry stops there. CBP will need a way to determine the difference between marijuana and hemp. This could be a problem in practice because hemp, especially in raw form, has a limited shelf life.

The takeaway from the Innovative Nutraceuticals order seems to be that because hemp is no longer a controlled substance under the CSA, that importing hemp does not violate the CSA. In practice, importing hemp still presents significant risk because CBP may still seize hemp on suspicion of it being marijuana. Anyone looking to import hemp into this country should plan accordingly.

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Study: Marijuana May Increase Woman’s Desire and Orgasms During Sex

According to a new study published by the journal Sexual Medicine, roughly a third of U.S. women have used marijuana before sex, and those who do report increased desire and better orgasms.

The study states that marijuana use has been on the rise among U.S. adults as a growing number of states pass laws legalizing it for medical and recreational purposes. Although marijuana is thought to act on the cannabinoid receptor in the brain, which is involved in sexual function, little research to date has examined the drug’s impact on sexual health, the study team notes.

According to Reuters, researchers surveyed 373 female patients at an obstetrics and gynecology practice in an academic medical center in Saint Louis, Missouri. Overall, 127 women, or 34 percent, reported using marijuana before sexual activity.

Women who used marijuana before sex were twice as likely as those who didn’t to say they had “satisfactory” orgasms, the survey found. And women who regularly used the drug were twice as likely as occasional users to have satisfying orgasms.

“What’s new about this study is that marijuana is framed as being useful for sex,” said Joseph Palamar, a population health researcher at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Typically, drugs are investigated as risk factors for sex. I think this paper signifies that times are changing,” Palamar said by email.

Like alcohol and many recreational drugs, marijuana has long been linked to an increased risk of sexual activity among teens, and some previous research has also tied marijuana to unsafe sex and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

“In the current study, however, Dr. Becky Lynn of Saint Louis University School of Medicine and colleagues focused on the connection between marijuana and women’s satisfaction with their sex lives, sex drive, orgasms, lubrication and pain during intercourse. Lynn didn’t respond to requests for comment”, states Reuters. Overall, 197 women in the study, or about 52 percent, didn’t use marijuana at all. Another 49 women, or 13 percent, used the drug but didn’t indulge before sex.

Women who did use marijuana before sex appeared to have more lubrication and less pain during intercourse than women who didn’t, but the differences were too small to rule out the possibility they were due to chance.

Compared to occasional marijuana users, women who regularly used the drug reported better lubrication, and increased satisfaction with their sex lives – but here, too, the differences were too small to rule out the possibility of chance.

Beyond its small size, one limitation of the study is that it wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how marijuana might directly impact sexual health. It’s also unclear whether women smoked pot or used another form of the drug, or if this was the only substance women were using that might alter their sexual function.

Another drawback is that the study included mostly white women who were married or in relationships, making it possible the results don’t represent what all women would experience. And, the study didn’t explicitly spell out what type of “sex” it was asking about, making it difficult to say for sure what types of activity might be impacted by marijuana use.

“It is unknown how experienced these women were with marijuana or in combining marijuana and sex. We also don’t know who intentionally combined marijuana with sex,” Palamar said.

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