The Senate Majority Leader introduced a bill in April that would remove cannabis from the Schedule I drug classification that makes cannabis illegal under federal law. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 is co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
Hemp comes from the cannabis plant but has little to no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in the plant. Hemp is used to make cardboard, cars, clothes, cosmetics, food, fiberglass, rope, and paper goods.
McConnell says that hemp can help Kentucky's agricultural industry, create jobs, and fund the state's pension. Hemp sales in the United States reached almost $600 million last year, and Kentucky farmers hope to grow hemp as an alternative to tobacco crops. Tobacco crops are dwindling as consumers consider tobacco's health risks.
The Tale of Two Plants
Medical marijuana is now legal in 30 states and recreational marijuana is legal in 9 states plus Washington D.C. Yet, McConnell separated himself from legal marijuana when he spoke to reporters to qualify his stance.
He emphasized to the crowd that there are differences between hemp and marijuana, adding that he had no plans to endorse legalizing marijuana. "These are two entirely separate plants. I hope everybody now understands that" he said. "It is a different plant. It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace." The senator went on to say that hemp is a diversified crop that can be used in food, medicine, and car dashboards.
Meanwhile, McConnell's Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), recently announced his new support of marijuana and recommended that it be removed from the federal list of controlled substances. The senator wants to decriminalize marijuana while allowing states to decide for themselves about legalizing the drug.
McConnell authoring hemp legislation while he denounces its illicit cousin is even more shocking when considering the endorsement of Republican and Former House Speaker John Boehner, who is now on the board of a cannabis company and is also calling for the end of prohibition.
Polls show that at least 61 percent of Americans are in support of legalizing recreational marijuana, with 65 percent of Independents, 43 percent of Republicans, and 69 percent of Democrats in support of legalization.