Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he plans to introduce legislation to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity, a familiar move that could help pave the way for more growth in his home state.
McConnell, R-Kentucky, says he and a bipartisan group of senators will formally introduce the bill after Congress returns from its Easter recess. The legislation, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, would allow states “to be the primary regulators of hemp” and strip hemp of its classification as a controlled substance, McConnell’s office said in a release on Monday.
“Hemp has played a foundational role in Kentucky’s agricultural heritage, and I believe that it can be an important part of our future,” McConnell said in a statement. “I believe that we are ready to take the next step and build upon the successes we’ve seen with Kentucky’s hemp pilot program.”
The Department of Agriculture would still need to approve state implementation plans to allow for cultivation of the product. According to his office, McConnell’s legislation also seeks to allow hemp researchers to apply for USDA grants and remove “federal barriers in place that have stifled the industry.”
Ryan Quarles, Kentucky’s ag commissioner, said the bill allows the state to “harness the economic viability of this crop and presents the best opportunity to put hemp on a path to commercialization.”
McConnell’s bill, when introduced, will hardly be the first time he and many other lawmakers have tried to legalize widespread cultivation of the crop. In 2015, McConnell cosponsored the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, which struck industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Rep. James Comer, Quarles’ predecessor as ag commissioner, introduced a similar bill last year.
“I know firsthand the economic viability of industrial hemp,” Comer said at the time. “Hemp has created new opportunities for family farmers and good paying jobs for American workers, especially in Kentucky.”
States formerly known for tobacco production see hemp as a crop that could potentially occupy acres formerly devoted to different forms of tobacco growth.
The 2014 farm bill allowed for universities and state departments of agriculture to grow hemp in limited cases, but efforts to achieve full-scale legalization have been, to this point, unsuccessful.
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