McConnell Offers Congressional Hemp Bill to Fix ‘Glitches’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — As hemp enters a new era as a legal agricultural commodity, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he’s willing to offer follow-up legislation to resolve any “glitches” stemming from mistaken identity between the crop and its lookalike, illicit cousin.

That includes safeguarding hemp shipments stopped by police who can’t tell whether they intercepted a legal crop or marijuana.

“Some glitches remain to be worked out, and some of it may require legislation,” McConnell told reporters after a hemp forum in Louisville, his hometown.

Using a football analogy, the Republican Senate leader said hemp supporters have reached the “red zone” in restoring the historic crop to mainstream American agriculture. He added: “I’m prepared to do my job … all the way into the end zone if it requires additional legislation.”

Since hemp’s legalization, some truckers with interstate shipments have been stopped and sometimes arrested. The only way to distinguish hemp from marijuana is by measuring their tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and officers don’t have the testing technology to do so on the spot. Marijuana, illegal under federal law, has enough THC to get users high. Hemp has almost none — 0.3 percent or less under U.S. government standards.

Kentucky and Oregon are big hemp producers, and much of what they grow is processed in Colorado. Companies that transport hemp often drive through Oklahoma and Idaho, where some arrests have occurred.

McConnell, who led the push in Congress to legalize hemp last year, said Monday that regulations might be sufficient to help some aspects of the hemp business.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Greg Ibach, who attended the hemp conference, said USDA has asked federal drug enforcement officials for a “coordinated effort” on interstate hemp shipment.

“That might be an area where USDA can work together with other federal agencies to not only help them understand hemp, (but) look for testing protocols that might be able to be used on the road to be able to differentiate between hemp and other products that aren’t legal,” he said.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said ensuring unimpeded hemp shipment requires communicating with officials in other states “about what hemp is and what hemp is not.”

Other concerns have included making sure the fledgling industry gets the financial backing it needs to grow.

McConnell recently teamed with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, in seeking to ease concerns about credit availability and other financial services for hemp farmers and businesses. They urged federal financial regulatory agencies to make it clear that hemp is legal and to issue “guidance” to institutions under their jurisdictions to ease concerns.

McConnell orchestrated successful efforts last year to attach hemp legalization language to the new federal farm bill. The provision removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances and treats the low-THC version of the cannabis plant like any other agricultural crop.

Now, the USDA is crafting rules for a nationwide hemp program. The Kentucky forum was part of the effort to gather input. The goal is to have the program in place for the 2020 crop season, Ibach said. The work includes developing a crop insurance program for hemp growers.

“My goal is to get this product out as quick as we can, but yet it’s got to be right,” USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Martin Barbre told reporters.

Deeply rooted in Kentucky’s past, hemp was historically used for rope but has many other uses, including clothing and mulch from the fiber; hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds; and soap and lotions. Other uses include building materials, animal bedding and biofuels. Hemp-derived CBDs are touted by many as a health aid.

While hemp’s commercialization is still in its infancy, Quarles said he hopes Kentucky hemp someday becomes as recognizable as Kentucky bourbon and horses.

The state’s hemp processors reported $57.75 million in gross product sales last year, compared with $16.7 million in 2017, Quarles said recently. Processors paid Kentucky farmers $17.75 million for harvested hemp materials in 2018, up from $7.5 million the year before.

Nearly 1,000 farmers will grow hemp in Kentucky this year and more than 120 companies in the bluegrass state are processing the material, Quarles said.

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In Photos: Feminine Pipes So Gorgeous, You’ll Hesitate to Smoke Them

Glassware has always served as a fundamental part of cannabis culture, from simple one-hitters and bespeckled bowls to elaborate rigs and bongs. Step into any conventional head shop or bodega, however, and the aesthetic has remained largely the same: psychedelic pattern work, cartoonish riffs on pop culture icons, and corny stash devices. But as cannabis moves into the mainstream, a new generation of independent artists are injecting personal aesthetic and style into functional pieces of art worthy of open display.

Los Angeles-based artist Sibelle Yuksek (@sibelley) didn’t go into glasswork with the intent of making pipes. But that’s precisely what makes her art so different. Combining influences from her teen obsessions with Japanese comic books and gaming, her experiences with yoga and bodywork, and her education in fashion illustration, Yuksek specializes in creating delicate, naturalistic interpretations of female bodies that double as a pipe.

(Courtesy of Sibelle Yuksek)

Fondly referring to her pieces as her “little women,” Yuksek might be one of the few people that can get away with objectifying them. Each piece bears its own personality and a sense of movement within the inanimate–long legs, outstretched arms, arched backs. Her most complex piece, which took roughly 40 hours to make, is of a female rig outfitted with a machine gun wrapped from back to belly that looks straight out of “Ghost In The Shell” or “Tank Girl.”

(Courtesy of Sibelle Yuksek)

They’re so beautiful that it’s easy to forget that you actually use it to smoke flower or concentrate. In fact, she says most of the people who have bought her pieces haven’t.

“I want to approach it as a fine art perspective; classy, fresh,” she says. “I like the idea of that these are objects first, but the fact they have that function is the cherry on top. You might see a figure on a tableside and turn it over, and you realize it’s completely functional. It adds this hidden surprise.”

(Courtesy of Sibelle Yuksek)

Considering the complexity of her art, it comes as a surprise that she fell into the practice accidentally. Majoring in illustration at Virginia Commonwealth University, Yuksek had her sights on fashion before falling in love with a glassmaking elective. She decided to pick up flamework as a double major, which would come in handy for sculptural installations or jewelry making. But it wasn’t until relocating to the West Coast and reconnecting with her mentor, 2 Stroke, that she’d reignite her interest in flamework.

“He was the first person who really inspired me in flameworking,” she says. “He actually contacted me about assisting him at this glass show in Vegas, the AGE show. When I saw him there, he asked me what I was up to, and I was just making jewelry. And he was like, ‘Hey, look at how much money we’re making and what we’re doing in the pipe scene. Marijuana is really popular. You’re on the West Coast–think about it.'”

(Courtesy of Sibelle Yuksek)

Like most young artists who can’t afford a studio space or kiln, Yuksek had to get creative. She began the completely ill-advised route of working with a flame torch in her bedroom before eventually landing a gig (and proper workspace) at Neptune Glassworks. There, she learned how to make vessels and glassware, while experimenting with smokables on the side.

“The pipes, I was just trying it on my own,” she says. “I didn’t have anyone to tell me exactly how to make rigs or anything. So, I was looking at what people were doing when I went to the shows, talking to people.”

(Courtesy of Sibelle Yuksek)

Last year, it all came together after taking a master class with OG glassmaker, Robert Mickelsen, who taught her how to refine her sculpting with holloware. “I spent so many years studying figure in illustration, doing live drawings, looking at comic books, drawing and drawing and drawing. So. the body has always been with me. But when I took his class, everything fell into place. I know how to work with glass and I know bodies, so he was the glue that put it together for me.”

She still smokes out of her first piece, a “janky” nude she’s kept for sentimental value. “You smoke out of her butt and pack the head. She’s pretty dirty because she’s my personal piece.” Most of her work moves through her Instagram, where she has built a growing following. After focusing primarily on nudes, Yuksek is shifting her energies into making video game characters and anime characters outfitted with accessories and garments. “I think that there are just so many people who can relate to those characters the way that I do, and I don’t see anyone creating them the way that I do. I know I can add my own twist to them,” she says.

(Courtesy of Sibelle Yuksek)

Between the pipe scene and glass world, Yuksek is still carving out her own territory as a functional sculptural artist. There’s something daring and uniquely fitting about a woman facing the flames, not adhering to preconceived notions about how a pipe should look or devaluing its legitimacy as art because it can be used for cannabis. If anything, it’s another example of the limitless ways people are reexamining and elevating cannabis culture to a broader market.

“I’m jumping in and seeing what happens. I’m still trying to figure out where my pieces exist. Are they in head shops and smoke shops, or interior design settings? Should they be functional or sculptural?” she says. “From a personal aesthetic, I’m not as attracted to zigzag patterns or rasta colors. But because marijuana is so much more accessible, of course not everyone is going to have the same aesthetic or preferences. Maybe I’m the type of person that reaches out to a different market: people who love smoking, but have a nicely designed home or this item is part of the overall aesthetic that they’re going for. Or maybe it goes on the shelf because they think it’s really cool but they don’t use it. That also informs how I approach the work.”

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The STATES Act Is Back. Can It Win Over Congress?

The STATES Act, one of the leading efforts to end cannabis prohibition at the federal level, has stepped back into the spotlight.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) this week reintroduced the bipartisan bill, which would allow states to craft their own policies on cannabis. While it wouldn’t legalize the drug nationally, it would largely resolve the existing conflicts between state and federal law.

But although the measure has support on both sides of the aisle in the Capitol–and President Trump has signaled last year that he’ll “probably end up supporting” it–it’s by no means a done deal.

Created by Coalition

The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act was first introduced last year by Warren and Gardner–both of whom represent states that have legalized cannabis– after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, an Obama-era policy document that shielded legal cannabis states from federal interference.The act was intended to replace and expand on the Cole memo, and to enshrine cannabis protections in law rather than the Cole memo’s nonbinding Justice Department policy. In addition to harmonizing state and federal cannabis laws, it would also fund further inquiry into matters such as cannabis and traffic safety.

The newly reintroduced version has already earned the support of members of both main political parties. Although Warren, who is running for president in 2020, was absent from Wednesday’s event, Gardner was joined by his peers in the House of Representatives, who have put forward a virtually identical bill. They included Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR), Barbara Lee (CA). and Joe Neguse (Colorado), as well as Republican Reps. David Joyce (Ohio) and Matt Gaetz (Florida).

“It’s past time for Congress to clarify cannabis policy on the federal level and ensure states are free to make their own decisions in the best interest of their constituents,” Joyce said in a statement. “The STATES Act does just that by respecting the will of the states that have legalized cannabis in some form and allowing them to implement their own policies without fear of repercussion from the federal government.”

Will It Pass? Roadblocks Remain

Although the STATES Act boasts broad bipartisan support, it’s by no means guaranteed to pass. The political climate around cannabis has changed dramatically since the Act was introduced a year ago. There’s a chance that progressive Democrats will shoot down the act, which doesn’t address questions of social justice or equity. A legalization measure in New York died this month largely because lawmakers couldn’t agree on such issues.

“Communities of color are being locked out of this industry,” Rep. Lee, who nevertheless supports the STATES Act, said at the bill’s reintroduction. “We have the opportunity to make this the most equitable industry in the country. Right now less than 1% of the cannabis industry is owned and operated by people of color. We can do much better than that.”

Sponsors will also have to push the act through both the Republican-held Senate and the House Judiciary Committee, which is currently bogged down in investigations related to Russian interference in the 2016 election and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent report.

“That committee is pretty overwhelmed,” acknowledged Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who supports legalization. “They’re dealing with a dozen different pressing problems.”

Optimists, however, argue that momentum for cannabis reform is building, particularly after the SAFE Banking Act cleared the House Financial Services Committee last week. Prohibition’s end, they say, is drawing near.

“This is an opportunity for us to break the logjam,” said Rep.Blumenauer, a longtime legalization proponent and co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “The STATES Act is the next logical step in a comprehensive blueprint for more rational federal cannabis policy. It’s time for Congress to catch up with the rest of America are and fix a badly broken system.”

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