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Mitch McConnell Wants Congress to Legalize Hemp

March 26, 2018
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters ahead of President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Amid reports that Trump has wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, McConnell said he's unaware of any effort, official effort, by the White House to undermine the special counsel, and therefore he sees no need to bring up legislation to "protect someone who doesn't need protection." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on Monday that he intends to introduce legislation to legalize hemp as an “agricultural commodity.”

Hemp is cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC, and four years ago it was completely illegal.

The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, cosponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Rep. Jamie Comer (R-KY), would remove federal barriers to the planting and production of hemp, open the way for researchers to apply for grants from the US Department of Agriculture, and allow for state regulation of the plant.

“What will it do?” McConnell said on Monday. “First and foremost, this bill will finally legalize hemp, legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from list of controlled substances.”

If such a bill were to pass, it could have profound meaning for manufacturers of cannabidiol (CBD), the medically beneficial cannabinoid that can be extracted from all forms of the cannabis plant, including hemp.

Hemp is legally defined as cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid in marijuana. There are no limits on the amount of CBD that may be contained in hemp.

Hemp seeds: It’s low-THC cannabis. (Univ. of Louisville photo)

Until recently, hemp had been banned entirely under the Controlled Substances Act, which categorizes all forms of cannabis as a Schedule I substance.

In 2014, however, Congress passed the Agricultural Act (aka the federal farm bill) that legally defined hemp as cannabis containing “0.3 percent THC or less,” and allowing certain states to create pilot programs to grow small amounts of the plant. One of those states was Kentucky, McConnell’s home state.

That pilot project calmed many fears and cleared up confusion about the difference between hemp and higher-THC cannabis, McConnell added:

“In 2014, in getting the pilot project option in the farm bill, there was a lot of discussion about what is this. Is this the same as its distant cousin? I think we’ve moved past that. I think most members of the Senate now understand it’s two very different plans. There may be some continued discussion of that. But I think most everybody … now understands this is a totally different plant.”

(It’s not a totally different plant, actually. It’s still cannabis, but cannabis with extremely low levels of THC.)

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Through the pilot program run by Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture, the state has gone from zero hemp production to 12,000 acres in less than four years.

Researchers at the University of Louisville began harvesting the crop on campus in 2016 to study its use as a biofuel and energy source The results of that program have been favorable, and led to the manufacture of products that McConnell apparently had a chance to check out last weekend.

In this August 2016 photo, researchers at the University of Louisville demonstrate how to plant hemp seeds in their 40-foot by 40-foot plot. (Photo courtesy of the University of Louisville’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research)

“I just had an opportunity to see some interesting and innovative products, some of which you see here on the table, made with Kentucky-grown hemp,” he said at the US Hemp Roundtable in Frankfort on Monday. “Sunstrand, based in Louisville, contracts with farmers in Henry County to grow hemp that they process into a number of consumer products, including home insulation.”

The state’s senior senator seemed quite taken with the commercial prospects of home-state hemp, which he said was different than its “illicit cousin”:

“Imagine, instead of pink fiberglass, we could use Kentucky-grown, environmentally sustainable hemp to insulate our houses. This represents just one many uses that Kentuckians are finding for this versatile crop.”

Medical marijuana patients, especially those finding relief through the use of CBD, may find a vastly expanded array of products available if hemp were to be legalized nationwide.

In Kentucky, for example, Kings Royal Biotech, a company that develops medical-grade CBD from hemp, broke ground on a new 75,000-square-foot facility in the Carlisle County town of Bardwell on March 15. The company is expected to create 140 full-time jobs in the West Kentucky farming community. Kings Royal expects to start processing locally grown hemp in late 2018, and ramp up to full capacity by mid-2019.

“Industrial hemp is the next big thing in Kentucky,” Keith Taylor, chief operating officer at KRB, said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “The bourbon industry is synonymous with the state, and it is our goal to reach that level of success, where any time someone thinks of hemp-related products, they think of Kentucky.”

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Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • I hope he will succeed and marijuana will be legalized

    • Jeffrey Avery

      have faith,we will get there,promice,,,,ive noticed a lot of you are gettting discouraged,,,,suggestion,,,go to a mj/mmj map-theyve got a good one on norml,,,think back a couple yrs back,,,,now doesnt that beautifull map look like a sea of green…….i know…not all is same law across country…..but look,and be proud of the progress weve made ,together,,,we are a movement,we are a force we are a brotherhood,,,,,,and maybe not our names,but at least our spirit will ,forever be in our history,,,,it took us near a 100 yrs but we changed,america,and changed her for the betterment of mankind……………..peace out

    • mogwaipr

      Hemp is not medicinal cannabis

      • Azwe Thinkweiz

        And still so many use it medicinally and it is cannabis. THC is not the only useful cannabinoid in the cannabis flower.

        • mogwaipr

          All we need is that lying scumbag of cheap sellout politician to draw the line in hemp and then do death penalty on growers. Make America Go Asswards

          • Azwe Thinkweiz

            So your upset that Obama didn’t legalize it the 2 years he had a super majority and could have passed it in about 15 minutes? You also seem to be upset that Obama didn’t get rid of the death penalty for dealers that was the same law that isn’t currently law when he was president.

          • mogwaipr

            Obama made legalization a reality. Deal with it

          • Azwe Thinkweiz

            It is no more legal today than it was when he took office. The 2014 bill was passed by a Republican house which is more than what happened when Dems held both sides. Your reality and the rest of the worlds differs greatly. Fact is he did more raids and spent more money than bush did on dispensaries. Backwards? Not in your eyes.

          • K August

            Yah. In july 2018 canada will go legal. America need to step up now!before places like aruba canada germany. Take over .Whats at stake. Hemp and medical pot.

          • K August

            To many people think hemp is the same as medical cannabis.
            Hemp can take over the paper and rope ind.
            Medical cannabis can take over medical pill ind.
            I believe one is a drug and hemp is not a drug.
            America should have fields of hemp and indoor grows of cannabis.

      • Technically, hemp is medicinal cannabis. (It’s kind of like Diet Coke when real Coke isn’t an option.) Many folks want lower THC while still keeping many of the other beneficial cannabinoids. Hemp is a low-THC sativa. It may not be as fun, but it has all the other essential elements that ‘regular cannabis’ has.

        • mogwaipr

          3 parts CBD and one part THC > than 3 parts THC. You still need a little THC to gain all the benefit from the CBD.

        • mogwaipr

          > than 3 parts CBD without any THC (I meant)

    • tropicalday88

      It will take your vote not just your hope.

  • 360dunk

    Now your cousin in Kentucky will be able to wear a hemp wedding dress when you marry her.

    • Daxx Vondrachen

      that’s hemp and duct tape to you.

  • Snegurochka

    Can’t trust this sleazy Repug further than you can throw him. Quit fawning.

    • Larry342516

      No, but sometimes he does something for the good of the people. Hemp could be a big boost for the American farmer, and create thousands of jobs.

    • Auryan

      That aside… Industrial Hemp and Cannabis is one of the FEW THINGS that crosses the isle in Congress. So call him what you will…this is timely legislation.

  • Larry342516

    Lobbyist for the Paper Companies had Hemp added as to the controlled substance list so they would not have to compete with it. Paper companies bought up large amounts of land overseas, and to this day are destroying clean air and our water supply by cutting millions of trees. Hemp was the first crop in the USA used for making paper products. If you care about the environment have your congressman vote YES for Hemp. It is not a drug, but a product of many uses.

  • tropicalday88

    Hemp, really. Just how backwards is this country. The sky did not fall when Canada approved it, nor has it fallen in Europe. As the polls indicate cannabis should be fully legalized now and congress can’t even get behind the most versatile crop there is.

    It has been interesting watching some elderly easily get pass the silly stigmatism of cannabis to assist in easing various ailments associated with aging, and others that might if it were more readily available. Even though they suffer my parents in their late 80’s are embarrassed to ask their doctor. Some elderly obtain it the old fashion way through “a friend” even in states where medical cannabis is available. It’s less expensive and they don’t have to go through a state mandated obstacle course. Clearly their is significant benefit to be found in this plant anyone who has suffer a significant illness such as cancer can attest to this fact. If it’s only benefit was to allow them to better enjoy a little sun on their face while sitting on the back porch, why should anyone stand in their way.

    The senseless roadblocks have done little except to raise the price of a product that should be regulated no different than alcohol. Full legalization with a fair and prudent tax policy would do away with the majority of the blackmarket. You can never eliminate it entirely no matter how much money you are willing to throw at it. If you wish to grow some in your back yard it really shouldn’t be anybodies business but your own.

  • Daxx Vondrachen

    I told ya the politicians will legalize it when they smell the potential viggorish

  • Bryan Rowley

    How many more testimonials are needed in order to consider marijuana as a medicine? Hope everyone will finally realize its amazing benefits. ANNCANNMED helps me treat myself, I feel support talking to licensed physicians