The push to make hemp, a non-psychoactive relative of marijuana, a legal cash crop in the United States got a fresh boost Monday from the country’s most powerful senator.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he will introduce a bill removing hemp from the federal government’s schedule of controlled substances, renewing an effort that has gotten some bipartisan support in recent years — including from McConnell, though never quite so enthusiastically.
“Hemp has played a foundational role in Kentucky’s agricultural heritage, and I believe that it can be an important part of our future,” McConnell said in a statement released by his office. He announced the imminent filing of the bill in Frankfort, the state capital, alongside Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
Industrial hemp is a type of cannabis that looks similar to marijuana but contains negligible amounts of the intoxicating component THC. Hemp fibers can be used to make rope, cloth and paper, while hemp oil can be used in cosmetics, food, paper and other products.
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.
“It’s now time to take the final step and make this a legal crop,” McConnell said in Frankfort, according to an Associated Press report.
While removing hemp from the controlled-substances list would mean cultivators would no longer need a federal permit, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would still give the federal Agriculture Department oversight over states’ hemp production programs, according to information released by McConnell’s office.
The Agriculture Department would also issue competitive grants to hemp researchers who are developing cultivation methods and uses for the plant.