The leader of the U.S. Senate has announced a plan to protect the industrial hemp industry from federal prosecution.
“We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky’s past,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said at a press conference.
McConnell intends to introduce the plan in Congress when he returns to session next week and that his legislation will “finally legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances.”
This is not McConnell’s first effort to provide legal protections for the industrial hemp industry. In 2014, he added language to the farm bill that shielded industry hemp researchers from federal prosecution. A similar measure was added to the omnibus spending bill recently passed by Congress to protect medical cannabis businesses and patients abiding by state law from federal authorities.
McConnell’s plan “will also give hemp researchers the chance to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – allowing them to continue their impressive work with the support of federal research dollars.”
At the same press conference, McConnell also claimed that his bill would eliminate obstacles for legalizing hemp by ” recognizing in federal statute the difference between hemp and its illicit cousin.”
McConnell has plans to meet with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in order to ensure that industrial hemp can move forward without the threat of a crackdown from the Department of Justice. In January, Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, an Obama era guidance that shielded medical cannabis patients and businesses abiding by state law from federal prosecution.
Kentucky’s junior Senator, Rand Paul (R-KY) will be a co-sponsor of the bill. He has also advocated for legal hemp for several years.
The rest of the world can grow hemp and we’re not, so we’re losing out on that product,” Paul said in 2012. “You know our farmers are one of the greatest parts of our economy. We do things very well in agriculture. If we would legalize hemp I think we would be one of the leaders of the world. I think we have a chance of passing it.”
Kentucky has a long history of producing industrial hemp. In the 19th and 20th century, before cannabis was criminalized, Kentucky was the largest producer of industrial hemp in the United States.