Bipartisan Push to Legalize Hemp Approved in Farm Bill

Michael Fields Agricultural Institute executive director Perry Brown inspects an industrial hemp plant in East Troy, Wis., on Oct. 23, 2018. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. moved closer to legalizing hemp today with the Senate’s 87-13 passage of the Farm Bill conference report.

With his state poised to reap financial benefits from hemp production, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been pushing for legalization for years. The Drug Enforcement Administration, though, has kept a hand on hemp, keeping its production confined to state-sponsored agricultural pilot programs and ensuring that industrial hemp have a tetrahydrocannabinols concentration of “not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

McConnell declared on the Senate floor today that he used his “very own hemp pen to sign the conference report, clearing the way for the House and the Senate to pass the legislation and send it to the president’s desk.”

“And I’m proud that the bill includes my provision to legalize the production of industrial hemp. It’s a victory for farmers and consumers throughout our country,” he said.

Kentucky, he noted, was once the national leader in the growing and production of industrial hemp. In 1919, more than 600,000 acres of hemp grew in the state; that number steadily plummeted. Other current hemp-growing states include Montana and Colorado.

“But then, for decades, a federal ban halted that progress and shut American farmers out of the hemp field,” he added. “Don’t get me wrong, hemp could still be found in this country, in all kinds of products. The problem is that it’s just all being grown somewhere else and imported.”

McConnell said that “it’s time to let American growers get back in business with this versatile crop once again.”

“The farmers, processors, and manufacturers in my state and across this country are ready for the hemp comeback. It began in 2014 when I secured the establishment of hemp pilot programs, with the help of then-Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer. States like Kentucky got the chance to explore the plant’s potential and to show us all just what hemp could do. And the results have been nothing short of extraordinary,” he continued.

“Now, American-grown hemp can be found in your food, your clothes, even in your car dashboard. The results mean jobs, economic growth, and new opportunity. Last year alone, hemp products contributed more than $16 million to Kentucky’s economy. And this is just the pilot program. At a time when farm income is down and our growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future.”

The Farm Bill provision removes industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances and allows state departments of agriculture to be responsible for oversight of the crop.

McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), along with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley, introduced the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 earlier this year.

“It is far past time for Congress to pass this commonsense, bipartisan legislation to end the outrageous anti-hemp, anti-farmer and anti-jobs stigma that’s been codified into law and is holding back growth in American agriculture jobs and our economy at large,” Wyden said in April. “Hemp products are made in this country, sold in this country and consumed in this country. Senator McConnell, our colleagues and I are going to keep pushing to make sure that if Americans can buy hemp products at the local supermarket, American farmers can grow hemp in this country.”