Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is inching closer to reach his pledge: legalizing hemp for industrial use in the United States.
On Wednesday, a Senate panel approved a modest, bipartisan rewrite of federal farm and nutrition programs.
The measure includes McConnell’s legislation known as the Hemp Farming Act.
His legislation would legalize the production of industrial hemp, which is generally barred because hemp is related to marijuana, even though it contains little of that drug’s key psychoactive ingredient, known as THC. McConnell secured a hemp pilot program in the most recent farm bill in 2014 and views the crop as a good replacement for tobacco.
Industrial hemp is currently listed as a controlled substance under the federal law.
Earlier in the panel’s meeting, McConnell said he’s “hopeful the House will get to theirs, but it will probably look a little different than ours.”
A House vote soon “would give us a chance to get into conference and actually make a law here,” he added.
To replace tobacco’s falling revenue
According to McConnell, hemp farming in Kentucky can help replace some of the revenue from falling tobacco demand.
“I know there are farming communities all over the country who are interested in this,” said McConnell. “Mine are particularly interested in it, and the reason for that is — as all of you know — our No. 1 cash crop used to be something that’s really not good for you: tobacco. And that has declined significantly, as it should, given the public health concerns.”
However, McConnell questioned whether industrial hemp will ever be as big as tobacco was in Kentucky.
“We always had diverse agriculture, but there was nothing as big as tobacco,” he said.
“So all the people in rural Kentucky who sort of grew up with tobacco, are hoping this [hemp] will be really something.”
“I think it’s time we took this step,” said McConnell. “I think everybody has figured it out that this isn’t the other plant,” he added in reference to marijuana.
Dubbing agriculture as a “central part” of his state’s economy and pride, McConnel said there are more than 75,000 farms in Kentucky providing “jobs and a great way of life for the people that I represent.”