FRANKFORT, Ky. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has become a hemp advocate, according to the U.S. News & World Report. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell published a press release Monday that said he would be introducing legislation that would remove hemp from the federal government's list of Schedule 1 controlled substances.
McConnell also made the announcement in Frankfort at the state capital with the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, Ryan Quarles, on Monday. The new legislation, The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, would recognize hemp's agricultural merit and legalize it nationwide.
Quarles sent a letter to the head of the Drug and Enforcement Agency last December requesting a discussion regarding the federal government's overreach regarding hemp and state laws, adding that Congress should remove hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act list.
Hemp is used to make several materials, including car parts, cloth, construction materials, cosmetics, rope, fiberglass, food, and paper. Hemp has no psychoactive qualities and is a subspecies of the cannabis plant.
Hemp Production Used to Be Legal in the United States
Hemp used to be legal in the United States, and the country's first president, George Washington, grew cannabis on five of his plantations. Kentucky also has a rich hemp history. The history of hemp in Kentucky began with the state's first hemp crop 1775.
The state quickly became the country's number-one producer of hemp, producing 40,000 tons of hemp in 1850. Kentucky continued to be a leader in hemp production until the plant was banned along with cannabis in 1938.
McConnell voted for The Agricultural Act of 2014, a bill authorizing states and institutions of higher education to cultivate hemp, conduct research, and attempt pilot hemp programs.
Kentucky's Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program immediately became one of the highest-producing states for hemp. McConnell is proud of what the program has accomplished and says that the state has become a model for the nation.
Farmers in the state planted hemp on 33 acres in 2014. Just one year later, there were more than 933 acres of hemp being cultivated in the state, and The Kentucky Department of Agriculture recently approved another 12,000 acres in the state for hemp cultivation.
Hemp looks almost identical to marijuana, so cultivators in the pilot programs are registered with the federal government and must consent to inspections by law enforcement. McConnell says the legislation will create jobs and fund Kentucky's pension. Hemp sales in the United States reached almost $600 million last year.
The Kentucky Narcotics Officers Association head Tommy Loving is against legalizing hemp because of its resemblance to marijuana. Loving said that the only way to tell the difference between the plants is laboratory testing, requiring resources the state's law enforcement simply does not have.
Many farmers in the state that used to grow tobacco want to switch to farming hemp. Farmers say that tobacco is no longer reliable as its popularity decreases due to tobacco's health risks along with the federal tobacco subsidies ending in 2004. The United States grew $3.5 billion worth of tobacco in 1981, but only $1.8 billion worth in 2014.
Researchers at The University of Louisville conducted a study on hemp's potential as a biodiesel and sustainable fuel. Engineers and researchers believe that hemp could potentially be a less expensive and cleaner alternative to both coal and oil.
Mahendra Sunkara is the director of The University of Louisville's Conn Center for Renewable Energy and thinks that hemp could be used as energy fuel for the entire country while simultaneously also providing huge profits for Kentucky farmers.
Senator McConnell said that he will introduce the bill in the Senate soon along with Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and bipartisan sponsors.