Image via McConnell Center
Cannabis reform used to be a deeply partisan issue, with a minority of liberal Democrats in Congress standing up against solid Republican opposition. In recent years, it’s been rare to see the leadership of both parties joining in support of any bill, but the issue of marijuana reform has actually stirred up bipartisan support for a string of recent legislation. This week, it’s hemp that has brought the leaders of the Senate together, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's announcement that he will cosponsor Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Hemp Farming Act.
The Hemp Farming Act would remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, fully legalizing the cultivation of hemp and all derived products. The bill is currently being sponsored by 10 other senators, with Schumer's support greatly increasing its chances of success.
Sen. Schumer called the current laws prohibiting the cultivation of hemp “a crock,” Forbes reports. “It makes no sense that the DEA is the primary regulator, and that they stop farmers and investors from growing hemp,” Schumer continued. “Why are we buying hemp from other countries, when we have hundreds of acres that could be grown right here in our backyard?”
McConnell maintains that legalizing hemp will provide a welcome boost for the country's farmers, especially in his home state of Kentucky. "We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become, sometime in the future, what burley tobacco was in Kentucky's past," McConnell said, according to WUKY.
Cannabis activists have lauded the bipartisan support for hemp legalization, and hope that it will set a precedent for further cannabis reform. "In a world where Senators McConnell and Schumer agree on almost nothing, having both Senate party leaders sponsoring legislation to end the federal prohibition of hemp only further reinforces the need for bipartisan legislation to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act entirely," said Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, to Forbes.
But although the Senate leaders are united on the topic of hemp legalization, McConnell's support for reform around the plant only goes so far. On this year's 4/20 holiday, Sen. Schumer proposed a bill to decriminalize marijuana, a surprising move for a politician who was once a leading champions of the War on Drugs. Schumer's bill would go further than the Hemp Farming Act, completely removing all forms of the cannabis plant from the Controlled Substances Act.
Although Schumer has signed on to McConnell's bill, the Majority Leader isn’t interested in returning the favor. In a recent interview, McConnell said that his support for hemp did not extend to cannabis. “I do not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana,” he remarked, according to The Hill. Hemp “is a different plant,” he asserted. “It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace.”