Mitch McConnell is taking his drug reform crusade from Kentucky to Washington.
The Senate Majority Leader introduced a bill on the Senate floor Thursday which would remove hemp, a closely related plant to marijuana, from the list of controlled substances and open the door for farmers to sell and grow it as an agricultural product.
McConnell said Kentucky farmers are optimistic about the legislation.
“Time and again, they shared with me their enthusiasm for hemp?s potential to reenergize agricultural communities and provide a new spark to the U.S. economy,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “This bill will help make that potential a reality.”
McConnell introduced his initiative at the end of March in Frankfort, but took the legislation to Washington on Tuesday.
U.S. Representatives Jaime Comer, a Kentucky Republican, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, backed the legislation.
Dubbed the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, it aims to make states the primary regulators of hemp, allow hemp researchers to apply for competitive federal grants from the USDA and?make hemp eligible to apply for crop insurance, according to McConnell.
McConnell was key to pushing through the federal “2014 Farm Bill,” clearing the way for states to allow industrial hemp ? and test the market to see if consumers would buy its products.
Kentucky then became one of the nation’s top producers, but agriculture officials must still approve applications to grow or process the crop.
McConnell said the hemp industry added 81 new jobs in Kentucky and brought more than $16 million for Kentucky farmers, but most of that crop was imported from outside of the United States.
“… the federal government has stood in their way,” McConnell said. “It’s time to change that.”
Narcotics detectives in Kentucky, however, have pushed back against the legislation since 2012.
Tommy Loving, the head of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association, has told Courier Journal that marijuana and hemp are too identical in appearance, leading to confusion among officers.
“The only true way to make a distinction between the two plants is through laboratory testing,” Loving said after McConnell’s March announcement.
Hemp, however, does have different qualities
While McConnell did not mention the clash with state law enforcement on the Senate floor, he said recently?in a meeting with Kentucky farmers that he thinks it has a shot.
“Hopefully we can pull that off,” McConnell said last week to Kentucky farmers. “Some states have gone farther in the other direction, the kissing cousin is legal in Colorado and Oregon. I’m hoping they’ll think this is pretty mild.”
In addition to this new Senate bill, a House companion is expected to be introduced by Rep. James Comer (R-Ky).
With support from the Senate leadership, the hemp industry is optimistic that this landmark legislation stands a real path to passage.
?There will be lots of work to do to update all 535 Congressional offices on these developments,? said Ben Droz, a legislative liaison in Washington, D.C., for Vote Hemp. ?I look forward to building on all of our work to continue to support the hemp and CBD industries.?