By Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
(AP) — As hemp enters a new era as a legal agricultural commodity, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he’s willing to offer follow-up legislation to resolve any “glitches” stemming from mistaken identity between the crop and its illicit, lookalike cousin.
That includes safeguarding hemp shipments stopped by police who can’t tell whether they intercepted a legal crop or marijuana.
“Some glitches remain to be worked out, and some of it may require legislation,” McConnell told reporters after a hemp forum in Louisville, his hometown.
Using a football analogy, the Republican Senate leader said hemp supporters have reached the “red zone” in restoring the historic crop to mainstream American agriculture. He added: “I’m prepared to do my job … all the way into the end zone if it requires additional legislation.”
Since hemp’s legalization, some truckers with interstate shipments have been stopped and sometimes arrested. The only way to distinguish hemp from marijuana is by measuring their tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and officers don’t have the testing technology to do so on the spot. Marijuana, illegal under federal law, has enough THC to get users high. Hemp has almost none — 0.3 percent or less under U.S. government standards.
Kentucky and Oregon are big hemp producers, and much of what they grow is processed in Colorado. Companies that transport hemp often drive through Oklahoma and Idaho, where some arrests have occurred.
McConnell, who led the push in Congress to legalize hemp last year, said Monday that regulations might be sufficient to help some aspects of the hemp business.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Greg Ibach, who attended the hemp conference, said USDA has asked federal drug enforcement officials for a “coordinated effort” on interstate hemp shipment.
“That might be an area where USDA can work together with other federal agencies to not only help them understand hemp, (but) look for testing protocols that might be able to be used on the road to be able to differentiate between hemp and other products that aren’t legal,” he said.
McConnell orchestrated successful efforts last year to attach hemp legalization language to the new federal farm bill. The provision removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances and treats the low-THC version of the cannabis plant like any other agricultural crop.
Now, the USDA is crafting rules for a nationwide hemp program. The Kentucky forum was part of the effort to gather input. The goal is to have the program in place for the 2020 crop season, Ibach said. The work includes developing a crop insurance program for hemp growers.
AP Photo Bruce Schreiner