Political Breakthrough Heralds the End of the Prohibition on Hemp

CannabisNewsWire Editorial Coverage: With federal legalization of hemp expected in the United States by Christmas, the farming and cannabidiol product industries are anticipating great changes in their future.

  • Hemp farming, which has been illegal in the United States since 1970, is about to be made legal under the newest Farm Bill legislation.
  • Pilot projects and work in Canada have allowed companies to prepare for U.S. hemp farming by developing their techniques, science and crop strains.
  • With legalization promising great growth, companies are seeking paths to investment opportunities.

Marijuana Company of America, Inc. (OTC: MCOA) (MCOA Profile) is among the innovating companies carrying out cultivation, research and development projects on sites in the United States and Canada. Canopy Growth Corp. (NYSE: CGC) (TSX: WEED) has been expanding its operations through partnerships with other companies, covering investment, supply and research. Cronos Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: CRON) (TSX: CRON) has expanded its cultivation and markets while negotiating for fresh investment. Aphria, Inc. (NYSE: APHA) (TSX: APHA) has partnered with a company specializing in branding to develop new consumer-driven brands and products for the cannabis market. Aurora Cannabis, Inc. (NYSE: ACB) (TSX: ACB) is putting out new products in the United States and looking to export those products abroad, following the successful export of medical cannabis into Europe.

To view an infographic of this editorial, click here.

The End of an Era?

For decades, hemp has been locked out of agricultural development in the United States. Once a vital crop used to produce the rope and canvas on which the American naval and merchant shipping forces relied, it was made illegal in 1970 under legislation designed to reduce drug addiction. For nearly half a century, farmers have been unable to cultivate this crop despite growing evidence of its usefulness.

Now that is set to change. After months of haggling, politicians in Washington have finally brokered a deal to pass the legislation that will make hemp legal. For the past four years, a small band of farmers and university researchers have been involved in pilot projects, testing the potential of the hemp market. The profitable outlook, together with growing demand for health and wellness products derived from hemp, have led politicians to change their stance.

Could 2019 be the year that hemp’s cannabidiol (CBD) derivatives become household commodities?

Legalization Legislation

The past decade has produced considerable growth for companies working in the hemp sector, such as Marijuana Company of America, Inc. (OTC: MCOA). Hemp is a form of the cannabis plant with very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in the marijuana strains of cannabis. Despite hemp’s essentially innocuous nature, it was made illegal under sweeping federal regulations that classified all forms of cannabis as Schedule I substances, among the most dangerous and least medicinally helpful of drugs.

Since 1996, the legal landscape has been changing as states have introduced pro-cannabis legislation in defiance of federal drug policy. This allowed companies such as MCOA to emerge and start looking at the potential of industrial hemp. However, these companies were caught in a no-man’s-land industry sector between conflicting state and federal legislation. Under those circumstances, building a commercial hemp industry had limited practicality.

A change at the federal level began four years ago, when the 2014 Farm Bill made it legal for companies to carry out pilot projects to grow hemp. Companies moved quickly to make the most of the opportunity, setting up facilities such as the farm MCOA established in Oregon. From 9,650 acres in 15 states in 2015, hemp production grew to 77,000 acres under 3,500 licenses in 23 states in 2018.

During the course of that change, the hemp industry has gained widespread acceptance in Washington and throughout the country, leading to cross-party support for hemp’s inclusion in the new Farm Bill as an agricultural commodity. But conflict over other aspects of the bill held the legislation up until late November. Then, in the waning days of a lame-duck Republican House, an agreement in principle was finally reached.

Once the farm legislation is passed as expected, growing hemp could become fully legal in the United States as early as January. That would be huge news for farmers and a great start to the new year for the fast-growing industry.

Farming Hemp

The anticipated legislative changes may lead to a new agricultural phenomenon for United States farmers, but it will be far from the first hemp crop in North America. Aside from the pilot projects in the United States, more liberal legislation in Canada has allowed farmers to get a head start on hemp production. For MCOA, this has meant pursuing profitable crops and supporting farmers on both sides of the border.

In Canada, MCOA’s efforts have taken the form of an innovative joint venture in New Brunswick. There, MCOA teamed up with Global Hemp Group, Inc. and four local farmers to experiment with techniques for hemp farming. This has led to practical developments, such as the use of a bean harvester to strip leaves and inflorescence from plants, improving the efficiency of the harvest. It has also led to more academic results, including research on plant nutrition with Dr. Ron Smith at the University of New Brunswick.

The company’s U.S. project at Scio, Ore., is earlier in its development and proportionally smaller. The Oregon cultivation benefited from good weather in 2018, extending growing time and leading to an improved harvest. Here, MCOA is already growing hemp with a higher CBD content — 6 to 12 percent. Large greenhouses were used to dry out these plants, with staff continuing to learn and refine their drying techniques with each batch.

On both sides of the border, partnering with other companies is helping MCOA maintain a high pace of innovation and expansion. The company is currently looking for opportunities to work with a cannabinoid extraction player in the United States to make the most of its crops.

Preparing for a Boom Market

With legalization around the corner, hemp companies are moving to strengthen their positions for market expansion.

For MCOA, this has meant a move into mainstream advertising. The company’s hempSMART™ subsidiary has partnered with asseenontv.pro to launch a television advertising campaign for its Full Spectrum Pet Drops, a pet well-being product using CBD.

CEO Donald Steinberg said, “As our hempSMART brand continues to grow, MCOA will continue to search for and utilize new partnerships that will uniquely market our incredible collection of all-natural CBD product formulations. We feel that our strategic partnership with ASONTV is an important milestone for the Company that will help promote our hempSMART Pet Drops to consumers across the country.”

The company has also filed an application to uplist its shares from OTC Pink to the OTCQB tier on the OTC markets. This strategic move should provide better access to institutional investors to raise funds targeted to help the company grow along with the wider industry. A new CFO and independent director were appointed over the summer to ensure strong leadership during this period of huge potential.

Like MCOA, Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp. (NYSE: CGC) (TSX: WEED) has been partnering with other companies to support its growth. This includes an investment and supply deal with 48North Cannabis Corp., a strategic supply agreement with MediPharm Labs Corp. and a research and development collaboration with Battelle. One of the factors fueling Canopy Growth’s expansion has been an investment from Constellation Brands, which pumped billions into Canopy Growth earlier this year. This financial move should give the American drinks giant a way into the cannabis and hemp markets, including the production and sale of CBD-infused drinks.

Cronos Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: CRON) (TSX: CRON) has also been pursuing growth, with expansion into Latin America, an increase in the scale of cultivation and a collaboration with Ginkgo Bioworks to develop innovative products for the cannabis market. This has drawn the attention of outside investors, and the company is now in talks with Altria Group, Inc. about potential investments that could provide additional funds at a strategic turning point for the market.

Aphria, Inc. (NYSE: APHA) (TSX: APHA) aims to carve out a distinct space in the market through innovative consumer products. Aphria recently announced the creation of a joint venture with Perennial, Inc. to develop original consumer-driven brands and products for the cannabis market. This will join Perennial’s experience in brand development with Aphria’s expertise in cannabis to explore edibles, beverages and other new lines of products.

Aurora Cannabis, Inc. (NYSE: ACB) (TSX: ACB) is already busy putting new products out. The company has recently announced the release of cannabis softgel capsules for the Canadian market and expects to export them to international markets next year. The company already works on an international scale, having announced its first shipment of medical cannabis to the Czech Republic in November.

Pending hemp legalization in the United States is only the latest in a series of shifts in the wider cannabis sector, shifts that appear to have opened the way for a wave of expansion and innovation.

For more information on Marijuana Company of America, visit Marijuana Company of America, Inc. (OTC: MCOA)

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420 with CNW – New Zealand Passes Medical Cannabis Bill

The government of New Zealand passed the medical cannabis bill earlier today (December 11). The bill provides a legal defense to anyone prosecuted for consuming medical cannabis during the time when a scheme has not yet been established to regulate how medical cannabis can be accessed.

The bill stipulates that the regulatory framework for access to medical cannabis should be in place within 12 months after the bill was passed. In the meantime, those who are terminally ill and are undergoing palliative care or are otherwise in the final stages of terminal illnesses can use cannabis and rely on the legal defense provided in the bill should such patients ever be prosecuted for consuming an illegal substance (cannabis).

The third reading and eventual passing of the bill only became possible after three parties supported the bill. These were the Labor Party, the Green Party and the New Zealand First Party.

The Green Party only supported the bill after getting a concession that native strains of cannabis will be used rather than relying on imported varieties. The Green Party also pushed to have the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme established speedily, in any event not later than one year after the bill was passed.

New Zealand First pushed, and succeeded, in having the legal defense apply not just to patients having less than a year to live, but to all those undergoing palliative care.

Talking after the passing of the bill, Health Minister David Clark said he was delighted with the “most progressive” bill ever passed with regard to cannabis. He promised to do everything possible to ensure that medicinal cannabis would become increasingly affordable as the years go by.

Clark added that his ministry would draft a paper on the medicinal cannabis scheme and invite experts as well as the general public to contribute to this paper before the scheme is implemented. This draft will be ready early next year (2019).

However, the bill didn’t pass without opposition. The National Party initially supported the bill, but voted against it during the third reading in Parliament.

The National Party is of the opinion that the current bill effectively decriminalized marijuana without being explicit about it. Simon Bridges, the leader of the National Party, described the bill as an attempt at “decriminalization by stealth” because the bill doesn’t provide any guidelines regarding the implementation of the scheme.

For example, he wondered what a police officer would do in case that officer encountered someone smoking cannabis outside a school.

The National Party drafted its own National Bill containing a detailed plan of how medical cannabis can be provided without creating any unnecessary risks. For instance, their bill bans the smoking of paper-rolled cannabis and includes a photo-ID system to enable the eligible patients to access medicinal cannabis at pharmacies.

The plan suggested by the National Party may not go to waste, for its recommendations may be considered during the consultative process hinted at by the Health Minister. After all, both sides in this debate want a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme that works for all. ChineseInvestors.com (OTCQB: CIIX), Choom Holdings Inc. (CSE: CHOO) (OTCQB: CHOOF) and other players in the cannabis industry would be glad to see the US pass legislation permitting cannabis in some form at the federal level.

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420 with CNW – Hemp Legalization Could Pave the Way for Marijuana Decriminalization

The Farm Bill of 2018 is getting its final touches to reconcile the versions approved by Congress and Senate. The bill will allow the cultivation of hemp, a plant that has for long been a controlled substance alongside cannabis. Marijuana advocates see the legalization of hemp as a precursor of what will inevitably happen with regard to cannabis since both plants belong to the same family.

Hemp contains just trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and is rich in CBD (cannabidiol) while cannabis has a high CBD and THC content.

Hemp has often been called “industrial hemp” because of its numerous industrial applications, such as its use in the production of biofuel and in the construction industry. Hemp is also used in the skincare industry as well as having medicinal uses from CBD oil.

Previously, hemp could only be grown if permission was granted in order to get a supply for pre-approved research projects. The new bill will classify hemp as an agricultural product, so one will no longer need a permit to cultivate it.

This decision may look simple at the surface, but it signals a major shift of policy since the new classification would remove the legal stigma of treating hemp as a dangerous plant/substance. It is this undertone that cannabis advocates are counting on for the rescheduling of marijuana since cannabis is closely related to hemp.

It is hoped that cannabis will soon be regarded as an intoxicant that isn’t so dangerous that it deserves the “pariah” status that has been slapped on it for decades.

Economic reasons played a major role in shifting attitudes towards hemp. The diverse uses to which hemp can be placed offer numerous avenues through which local, state and federal authorities can earn tax revenues.

The same prospects exist in the cannabis industry, so there is no reason to think that economic reasons will not come into play as the voices for cannabis legalization get louder across the country and in Congress or Senate.

Descheduling cannabis appears to be taking the same path as same-sex marriages. Society is awakening and questioning whether there is any justification to continue criminalizing cannabis, and the players in the political class are adjusting their positions in light of the shift at the grassroots. Cannabis is no longer the outlier topic it once was.

You can bet that the developments around hemp are of keen interest to companies like Canopy Rivers Inc. (TSX.V: RIV) and Chemistree Technology Inc. (CSE: CHM) (OTCQB: CHMJF) because of the medicinal applications to which CBD can be put.

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420 with CNW – Federal Report Shows More Banks Doing Business with Cannabis Companies

A quarter-three report for 2018 released by the Treasury Department’s FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) shows that the number of financial institutions that are doing business with marijuana businesses has increased by 20 percent from what it was at the start of this year.

The data gathered by FinCEN shows that 111credit unions and 375 banks had cannabis businesses as clients by the end of September.

This latest report has no surprises since previous quarterly reports by the agency showed a steady increase in the number of financial institutions willing to work with cannabis businesses even if national laws regard marijuana as an illegal substance.

The Q3 report comes hot on the heels of the electoral victories scored by marijuana in the midterm polls. Michigan voters approved adult-use cannabis while voters in Utah and Missouri voted in favor of medical marijuana.

The recent general political developments also seem to favor the marijuana industry in some form, especially when one considers the fact that the Democrats have taken control of Congress. National opinion polls also show record-high support for marijuana legalization, and the politicians may think twice before ignoring this tide.

Meanwhile, the ABA (American Bankers Association) started collecting data from its members regarding the challenges that they are facing as they serve the cannabis industry. The data collected will be used to apply pressure upon Congress and the relevant regulators to institute helpful reforms in the stifling banking laws.

At the same time, a number of key players in the federal government, such as the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have expressed a willingness to find ways for cannabis businesses to keep their cash safely instead of in bags as is the current practice.

The Federal Reserve chair has also acknowledged that the current legal regime makes it hard for financial institutions to have any certainty regarding how to work with cannabis businesses in the states where cannabis is legal. He feels that this needs to change.

States where cannabis is legal are also speaking up in different ways. For example, financial regulators in 13 states wrote to Congress asking for protections for the banks doing business with marijuana businesses.

More hope for financial institutions is coming from the consensus that seems to be forming in both Congress and Senate in favor of new legislation geared at fixing the impasse between federal and state banking laws with respect to offering services to cannabis businesses.

The big question now is whether the Republican-leaning Senate will cooperate when it matters if the Democrats in Congress pass cannabis-friendly bills. VIVO Cannabis Inc. (TSX.V: VIVO) (OTCQX: VVCIF), Youngevity International, Inc. (NASDAQ: YGYI) and the entire cannabis industry would be glad if these two houses agreed and removed the existing ambiguity in the financial laws affecting cannabis banking.

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420 with CNW – Alaska Credit Union Opens Its Doors to Cannabis Businesses

Credit Union 1 in Alaska has announced that it will begin a pilot program of offering financial services to cannabis businesses in the state. This pilot program is scheduled to start in the first six months of 2019.

The step taken by Credit Union 1 is a brave one because the majority of the financial institutions in the country are hesitant to have cannabis businesses as clients due to the prohibitions at the federal level. Credit Union 1 is chartered at the state level.

The Credit Union revealed that it was driven by security concerns when making the decision to pilot offering banking services to the cannabis industry. James Wileman, the CEO of Credit Union 1, said that they didn’t have any moral or political opinion about cannabis when deciding to get involved in providing banking services to marijuana businesses.

Officials from the tax division of Alaska welcomed the decision taken by Credit Union 1, calling it “extremely good news.” They are right to feel that way, because it will be much easier for the tax authorities to collect their dues once there is a clear paper trail to track all the sales in the state.

Alaska is already enjoying massive tax returns from the marijuana industry. For example, the state received approximately $11 million in taxes from January up to September this year.

Marijuana businesses are also excited by the opportunity, and they are wondering why it took so long for a financial institution to take the plunge and welcome cannabis businesses. Many are wishing they could participate in the pilot program instead of waiting for the services to be rolled out to more businesses sometime in the future at the successful conclusion of the pilot program.

The situation in Alaska shows how slowly systems change in order to accommodate new realities. For example, voters approved recreational marijuana in 2014 and the state started issuing retail licenses in 2016, but not a single cannabis company has been able to get any form of banking services.

However, it was just a matter of time before the allure of the resources in the cannabis industry became too strong for the banking industry to ignore. Chances are high that many other financial institutions will be watching the developments at Credit Union 1 before coming to the table as well.

Cannabis companies like American Premium Water Corp. (OTC: HIPH) and Cannabis Strategic Ventures, Inc. (OTC: NUGS) welcome the pioneering efforts of Credit Union 1 and other financial institutions that are trailblazers in their jurisdictions in terms of providing essential financial services to this nascent industry.

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420 with CNW – Missouri Welfare Recipients Uncertain Whether Medical Cannabis Will Affect Benefits

The midterm elections last month saw a large number of Missouri voters turn out to vote in favor of Amendment 2, the ballot measure which was intended to legalize medical marijuana. The passing of that amendment means that Missourians have an extra option to deal with various health conditions, such as PTSD, cancer and Parkinson’s disease. However, those receiving welfare benefits from the state aren’t sure whether the use of cannabis will make them ineligible for the benefits which they rely on for their sustenance.

The Department of Social Services in Missouri revealed that it has not yet reached a position regarding the status of beneficiaries who opt to use medical marijuana. However, the department offered no timeline regarding how soon the policy review would be complete.

Currently, the law requires that applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families be screened for drug use. Those who don’t show up for the test, and those who test positive for various drugs, including marijuana, immediately become ineligible to receive the benefits for three years.

Nonetheless, not everyone is tested, although everyone is asked about drug use. The welfare officers have the discretion to decide who is selected to be tested and who enrolls for the program without undergoing the drugs test.

As things stand, welfare benefits recipients may have to play it safe and abstain from medical marijuana even if they badly need it. This option is a tough one, but if one is faced with a choice on whether to risk being declared ineligible for three years after testing positive for cannabis or waiting until the Department of Social Services decides the way forward, then the abstinence choice becomes the less harmful one.

The dilemma on whether to consume medical cannabis or not isn’t just weighing on the mind of welfare recipients alone. Employees in various government departments, such as those working in the correctional facilities, also don’t know where they stand regarding the recently passed law legalizing medical marijuana.

The law bars the consumption of marijuana in all correctional facilities. However, it is not clear whether someone working in a correctional facility (warders, for example) can lose his or her job when drugs tests return a positive result for marijuana. Once more, the officials in charge of the Department of Correctional Services aren’t ready to commit one way or the other regarding this grey area.

One is tempted to think that it is still early days since medical marijuana was legalized in the state, so different stakeholders are still digesting the implications, and how to react to the new reality. Meanwhile, welfare recipients and workers in government departments remain uncertain about what the future holds for them regarding medical marijuana. Everyone watching the developments in Missouri, including Therma Bright, Inc. (TSX.V: THRM) (OTC: THRBF) and TransCanna is hoping that the necessary clarification is provided sooner rather than later so that those who desperately need medical cannabis can access it without fear of being victimized.

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CannabisNewsWire (CNW) is an information service that provides (1) access to our news aggregation and syndication servers, (2) CannabisNewsBreaks that summarize corporate news and information, (3) enhanced press release services, (4) social media distribution and optimization services, and (5) a full array of corporate communication solutions. As a multifaceted financial news and content distribution company with an extensive team of contributing journalists and writers, CNW is uniquely positioned to best serve private and public companies that desire to reach a wide audience of investors, consumers, journalists and the general public. CNW has an ever-growing distribution network of more than 5,000 key syndication outlets across the country. By cutting through the overload of information in today’s market, CNW brings its clients unparalleled visibility, recognition and brand awareness. CNW is where news, content and information converge.

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420 with CNW – Scientists Discover How Marijuana and Hemp Differ

Scientists have for long wondered why the cannabinoids in hemp differ in quantity from those present in cannabis, yet these plants are genetically similar. Research was conducted to generate a chromosome map of cannabis sativa and the findings shed light on this important question.

The study brought to light the fact that the THC and CBD composition of hemp and cannabis was largely a product of mutations resulting from viruses that entered the chromosomes of the cannabis plant millions of years ago.

The result of that viral invasion at the genetic level was that cannabis split into two distinct variations, that is, hemp and cannabis. Hemp largely contains CBD while cannabis has varying amounts of CBD and THC, but cannabis has markedly higher THC levels than hemp.

The enzymes that triggered the production of the varying levels of CBD and THC in these two plants look identical at the genetic level, but they differ in genetic expression. Consequently, it is possible to extract one gene and leave the other, thereby growing a plant with only one of the major cannabinoids. For example, the THC gene can be removed so that plants with only CBD can be grown, and the same can be done to the CBD gene in cannabis.

The scientists thought that human selection was partly responsible for the wide prevalence of cannabis strains since, from ancient times, people have been known to propagate plants that gave them the desired output. Consequently, varieties that had balanced CBD and THC may have been ignored and left to disappear from the genetic pool while those with high THC were kept as our forefathers enjoyed the “high” derived from those varieties. Hemp survived this primitive form of selection because it had other uses, such as making rope from its tough fibers.

What does this research show the current crop of scientists? There is still so little known about cannabis. This information gap may not necessary be the fault of the scientific community, but it can be attributed to the decades of prohibition that made it nearly impossible to perform any meaningful research on cannabis.

Jonathan Page, one of the main researchers in this Canadian study, remarked that the legal walls are gradually collapsing, so scientists should take the lead in generating information about this versatile plant. For example, the full implications of this chromosome map produced by Page’s research are yet to be fully understood. The Flowr Corporation (TSX.V: FLWR), The Green Organic Dutchman (TSX: TGOD) (OTCQX: TGODF) and other cannabis companies welcome the new body of information that has been added to what is currently known about marijuana.

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