Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) announced on Monday plans to introduce a bill which would remove the federal government’s long-maligned ban on hemp.
“First and foremost, this bill will finally legalize hemp, legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from list of controlled substances,” McConnell said.
Hemp is a crop whose fibers have been used for rope for tens of thousands of years, and also has hundreds of other uses, including building materials, clothing, milk, cooking oil, and biofuels. Prominent founding fathers of America such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin (among others) were loud advocates for the hemp industry.
Growing public panic around drug use led to hemp being banned by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 due to its association with marijuana. The two crops are the same species of plant, despite the fact that hemp’s minimal amount of THC makes it practically impossible to get high. The Controlled Substances list classifies hemp and marijuana as Schedule 1 illegal drugs alongside such drugs as heroin, mescaline, and LSD.
McConnell took pains to distinguish hemp from what he called its “illicit cousin,” instead emphasizing the benefits that hemp could have on his home state of Kentucky’s struggling economy. The state of Kentucky was once “the heart and center of the American hemp industry” for well over a century, a distinction McConnell is hoping to restore.
“Imagine, instead of pink fiberglass, we could use Kentucky grown, environmentally sustainable hemp to insulate our houses,” McConnell said on Monday. “This represents just one many uses that Kentuckians are finding for this versatile crop.”
UPDATED: McConnell’s office emails to say the bill will not only change hemp’s status under the law but will also set aside federal grant money for hemp farmers.
Taxpayer-subsidized cannabis cultivation. Welcome to the future. https://t.co/GLm63pAzWA
— Tom Angell 🌳📰 (@tomangell) March 26, 2018
McConnell has been pledging to push back against the ban on hemp as far back as 2013, promising “We’re going to do everything we can to bring industrialized hemp to Kentucky.” In 2014, he championed a federal Farm Bill which permitted a limited authorization for state agriculture departments to grow hemp for research and developmental purposes.
McConnell says his new proposal has the support of “a bipartisan group of members,” specifically mentioning fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
Republican opposition to all things cannabis has somewhat softened over the years, as even a majority of their own voters have expressed support for legalizing marijuana.
Majority of REPUBLICANS for first time in favor of legalization pic.twitter.com/ajqyM6E3Ni
— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) October 25, 2017
In the Trump administration, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has doubled down on his infamous opposition to marijuana. Just a few days after recreational cannabis was legalized in California, Sessions rescinded Obama-era legislation which dictated a policy of non-interference with pro-marijuana states with policies that conflicting with the federal’s ban on the substance.
McConnell said he will discuss with Sessions the differences between hemp and marijuana at a future date. The Department of Justice’s press office has yet to comment on McConnell’s planned legislation.
As of this writing, Senator McConnell has not responded to Grit Post’s request for comment.
Nathan Wellman is a journalist from Los Angeles who has written for US Uncut and Grit Post. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW