Washington, D.C.— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he will introduce a new bill on Monday that would legalize hemp, a non-psychoactive relative of marijuana, as an agricultural product. The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
In addition to legalization, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would remove the product from the federal government’s schedule of controlled substances, while also authorizing it to be sold as an agricultural commodity.
“Hemp has played a foundational role in Kentucky’s agriculture heritage, and I believe that it can be an important part of our future,” McConnell said in a statement. “It’s now time to take the final step and make this a legal crop,” McConnell said, according to an Associated Press report. Kentucky is currently conducting a pilot program through the Department of Agriculture to grow the plant.
Industrial hemp is a specific variety of cannabis plant grown for industrial and commercial uses of its fiber which contains almost no THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that alters an individual’s mental state upon ingestion. Its fibers can be used to make numerous products including rope, cloth and paper, while the oil can be used in cosmetics, food, paper and numerous other products.
In fact, industrial hemp has the potential to replace many of the fossil fuel-based products currently used, as it can be utilized in a reported 25,000 products— perhaps indicating why a substance that has no psychoactive value is treated as a controlled substance by the U.S. federal government.
As a report, entitled Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes, “hemp is also from the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa, as marijuana. As a result, production in the United States is restricted due to hemp’s association with marijuana, and the U.S. market is largely dependent on imports…”
The legislation would also allow states to make their own laws regarding industrial hemp production by removing federal restrictions, while the Department of Agriculture would provide oversight over states’ production programs, as well as issue competitive grants to researchers developing uses and cultivation methods for the crop.
According to a report by the Washington Post:
McConnell has been an advocate of hemp cultivation for at least four years. In 2014, he backed a provision in that year’s farm bill to allow for a hemp cultivation pilot program in his home state, and the following year he sponsored a hemp legalization bill introduced by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Paul has played a central role in persuading McConnell to become a proponent for the hemp industry.
With McConnell now a lead sponsor and significant bipartisan support secured for hemp legalization, the effort could find new success this year — although McConnell announced no immediate plans to bring the measure to the Senate floor.