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U.S. Senate Riding High on Hemp and Pushing for Robust Legalization

A measure to legalize industrial hemp survived its first Senate test, and appears poised to pass through both houses of the federal legislature before the year is over.

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America's federal legislators are finally warming up to hemp. Marijuana's benign cousin has long been lumped in with its psychoactive relative, but thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a group of bipartisan lawmakers, those days could soon come to an end.

Last week, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a piece of legislation commemorating "Hemp History Week," recognizing "the growing economic potential of industrial hemp" and the versatile crop's "historical relevance."

According to Marijuana Moment, Senate lawmakers doubled down on their hemp approval this week. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry passed the 2018 Farm Bill by a vote of 20-1, advancing a federal hemp legalization measure to the Senate floor.

Combined, the federal support for industrial hemp indicates a change of heart. For Senator McConnell, who introduced successful legislation for a federal hemp growth pilot program in 2014 and personally added hemp legalization to this year's Farm Bill, this month's landslide votes have signaled significant change in general knowledge about the industrial plant.

"I think it's time we took this step," McConnell said before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on Wednesday. "I think everybody has now figured it out that this is not the other plant."

Unlike the largely symbolic Hemp History Week legislation, McConnell's Farm Bill amendment would officially separate industrial hemp from marijuana in federal law books and rescind hemp's Schedule I status. Without those barriers, farmers around the country would be able to grow, process, and sell hemp products, including textiles, construction materials, and CBD oils. In McConnell's home state of Kentucky, agriculture experts predict hemp could help farming communities recover from a decline in tobacco production.

"All the people in rural Kentucky who grew up with tobacco are hoping that this will be really something," McConnell said at Wednesday's Senate hearing, according to Marijuana Moment. "And as we all know, hemp is very diversified. It can end up in your car dashboard, it can end up in food, it can end up in certain kinds of pharmaceuticals. It's time to figure it out and see where the market will take us. I think it's an important new development in American agriculture."

The Farm Bill will now move to the Senate floor, where the hemp legalization amendment is predicted to receive continued support. But partisan splits on government assistance may prove detrimental to the legislation's timeline. Still, McConnell has said that he will do everything within his power as Senate Majority Leader to advance the bill to a full legislative vote before the Senate breaks for a July 4th holiday recess.

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