After nearly a century of prohibition, American farmers may soon be able to grow hemp for agricultural purposes. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just announced plans to introduce a new bill to legalize agricultural hemp, cannabis correspondent Tom Angell reports in Forbes. Large-scale hemp cultivation is currently illegal in the U.S. because the DEA classifies the plant as a Schedule I drug. Hemp is derived from the cannabis plant, though the fiber has no psychoactive effect if consumed.
Hemp has been grown and cultivated throughout the world for fiber, food, and fuel for millennia, but the federal prohibition of cannabis has prevented American farmers from growing the crop since the 1930s, when plastics and oil companies allegedly co-conspired with the government to criminalize the material and nix a potential market threat. Today, American businesses are importing around $76 million in raw hemp from overseas due to the agricultural prohibition. In 2014, the Obama administration passed the Farm Bill, which officially designated low-THC hemp plants as separate from marijuana. This bill also allowed state institutions to apply with the federal government to grow limited amounts of hemp for research purposes.
During a recent speech in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell announced that he would soon be filing his bill to legalize hemp production in the Senate. "I just had an opportunity to see some interesting and innovative products, some of which you see here on the table, made with Kentucky-grown hemp," he said at the speech, according to CNN. "So I will be introducing ... a bipartisan bill in the Senate to continue to support this important Kentucky industry; it will be the Hemp Farm Act of 2018. This bill will finally… legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from list of controlled substances."
Although some may find it surprising to see a top Republican Senator pushing for legal cannabis, McConnell has actually been working towards this goal for at least four years. McConnell supported the 2014 Farm Bill, and has worked to add additional legislation to protect state industrial hemp research from federal prosecutors. The Senator also supported a similar bill to legalize hemp cultivation last year, but the bill did not receive a hearing or a vote.
The legalization of hemp could allow small farmers who are struggling to compete with giant agricultural firms a chance at generating new revenue streams. Hemp-based oils could provide alternatives to fossil fuels, even allowing hemp farmers to run their farm equipment on hemp-derived ethanol produced from their own crops. Farmers will also be able to choose their own seed sources and organic farming methods, sidestepping the GMO-based monocrop culture championed by Big Agriculture.
McConnell's support for a form of cannabis legalization is also notable for running contrary to the Trump administration's aggressive war on weed. Not only is hemp useful for manufacturing, but the medicinal cannabinoid CBD can be harvested from the plant. In fact, many medical cannabis firms are specifically sourcing their CBD from hemp in order to get around state or federal cannabis prohibition laws.
Cannabis journalist Amanda Chicago Lewis pointed out in a recent tweet that the media coverage on the hemp legalization bill "make[s] it all seem small / unrelated to any kind of 'drug,' when in reality this is an ENORMOUS deal. This is McConnell going against Trump's justice department, which is currently in a court case fighting to keep CBD illegal."