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Mitch McConnell Proposes Bill To Legalize Industrial Hemp

Could legal hemp transform US agriculture? Mitch McConnell seems to think so.

Adam Drury

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Mitch McConnell Proposes Bill To Legalize Industrial Hemp

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is partnering with Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner to introduce legislation that could significantly transform the agricultural landscape in the United States. On Monday, McConnell announced his plans to propose a bill in the US Senate to legalize industrial hemp. Mitch McConnell pitched the bill, which US Senators Ron Wyden (D-Or.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are co-sponsoring, during the US Hemp Roundtable in Frankfort.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Announces The Hemp Farming Act Of 2018

Amidst the looming threat of a federal crackdown on states with legal cannabis programs and the bombastic rhetoric of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, McConnell’s announcement comes as somewhat of a surprise from the staunchly conservative Senator.

Yet few may know Sen. McConnell has been an active proponent of legalizing hemp. In 2014, McConnell launched an industrial hemp pilot program in Kentucky.

So far, the program has authorized 12,000 acres for hemp cultivation. Additionally, after the pilot program’s first few years, Kentucky already has 57 hemp processing facilities.

Further, Kentucky’s hemp industry has thrived despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, which includes hemp. However, given the economic potential of legal hemp, McConnell argues that the time has come to legalize it.

“I think we’ve moved past that and most members of the Senate understand that these are two very different plants,” Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

And indeed, McConnell’s Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would change how the federal government classifies hemp, a genetic cousin of cannabis. The change would designate hemp an agricultural commodity, thereby lifting its Schedule I classification as a controlled substance.

Additionally, the Hemp Farming Act would let states set their own regulations for hemp production. Lifting other federal restrictions applied to controlled substances would also allow researchers studying hemp to apply for competitive grants from the US Department of Agriculture.

A research team at the University of Louisville is already cultivating hemp on campus. Their plans are to study the crop as a potential biofuel and renewable energy resource.

Mitch McConnell Proposes Bill To Legalize Industrial Hemp

With its pilot program well-underway, Sen. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky is in the best position to capitalize on the newly legalized industry.

“It is my opinion that in my lifetime help will be bigger than tobacco in Kentucky,” said Brian Furnish. Furnish, along with his brothers, is a participant in the state’s hemp pilot.

Furnish points out that Kentucky’s long-standing tobacco farming infrastructure is primed to make the pivot to industrial hemp.

“We are right for it because we have the tobacco infrastructure that no one else has in the world. We are full of [tobacco barns] and there’s no reason we can’t fill them up from hemp,” Furnish explained.

But federal legalization of industrial hemp production could benefit states across the country, not just Kentucky.

Industrial hemp is a versatile agricultural commodity with innumerable applications. From textiles to fabrics, to building materials, food, and even medicine, hemp could grow to become a major component of US agriculture.

While genetically related to the illicit Cannabis sativa, hemp is its own plant. Chemically and genetically distinct, hemp does not produce any psychoactive or narcotic substances like THC.

However, hemp plants do produce the cannabinoid CBD. CBD is the plant chemical responsible for many of marijuana’s medicinal and therapeutic applications. Hence the legality of certain CBD oils that come from hemp.

Of course, before the United States banned marijuana in the early twentieth century, hemp was a staple of US agricultural production going back to colonization. Sen. Mitch McConnell acknowledged this history in his announcement Monday.

“Hemp has played a foundational role in Kentucky’s agricultural heritage, and I believe that it can be an important part of our future,” Sen. McConnell said.

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