Senator McConnell Proposes Legalizing Hemp

On March 26th, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed legalizing hemp as an agricultural product. Currently, hemp is categorized as a form of marijuana because it’s a different strain of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa. Consequently, farmers are banned from growing it unless they obtain a federal industrial hemp permit.

Industrial hemp strains have lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of CBD oils. The fast-growing plant is extremely useful. Mature plants produce fibers that can be used for paper, textiles, insulation, and other products. The seeds are good sources of protein, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, iron, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and dietary fiber. Seeds can be turned into biofuels, animal feeds, biodegradable plastics, and a wide variety of foods such as cooking oils, hemp milk, vegan cheese, and salad sprouts.

McConnell says he plans to introduce a bill that would legalize growing industrial hemp and remove it from the federal list of controlled substances. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will co-sponsor the bill. Aside from legalizing cultivation of the plant, the bill would also allocate federal money to promote hemp cultivation in the U.S. The Senators’ home state of Kentucky has a lot of growers who are eager to see federal restrictions on hemp removed.

In previous legislation, McConnell added details to the 2014 Farm Bill which provided protection to hemp growers by allowing state agriculture departments to create hemp projects for research and development without federal interference. So far, thirty U.S. states have created hemp research programs. But the Farm Bill exemption has been fairly limited. It’s been perfectly legal to sell hemp foods and products in the U.S., and the result of the federal restrictions is that companies have been forced to import raw hemp when they could have been growing it themselves.

At Monday’s press conference where he was joined by Kentucky’s Republican agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles, McConnell said, “We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky’s past.”

McConnell added that he would be discussing the hemp issue with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has consistently and vocally opposed cannabis law reforms. Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo in January 2018, implying that the federal government would aggressively enforce federal drug laws in the face of state legalization efforts.

Last week, Congress agreed to prevent the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.

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