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McConnell’s Year-End Wish: Getting Congress to Legalize Hemp

Hemp Law

By Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

(AP) — Pressed for time and pushed to move quickly on a border wall and criminal justice reform, the Senate’s top leader has his own priority in Congress’ lame-duck session: passing a farm bill that includes a full pardon for hemp, the non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana that’s making a comeback in his home state.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has guaranteed that his proposal to make hemp a legal agricultural commodity, removing it from the federal list of controlled substances, will be part of the final farm bill, a crucial measure for rural America and Kentucky, where the Republican senator faces re-election in 2020. He places it on a par with federal spending bills as action Congress must take before the end of the year.

Keeping that promise would cap a decadeslong journey to overcome the stigma associated with the crop, which McConnell himself did not initially embrace wholeheartedly. But in recent years, the quintessential establishment Republican has been all in for the hemp revolution.

“This is huge,” said Eric Steenstra, president of the hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp. “The farm bill hemp provision is going to provide a much-needed regulatory certainty for the market. We’ve got a lot of people that are interested in investing in this but have been sitting on the sidelines.”

Nearly 78,000 acres of hemp were grown nationally this year, up from nearly 26,000 acres in 2017, with Montana, Colorado and Oregon joining Kentucky as top producers in 2018, according to Vote Hemp.

Hemp products sold in the U.S. had an estimated retail value of at least $820 million in 2017. With limited domestic production allowed by law, most hemp is imported. If domestic hemp production wins legalization, those sales will soon eclipse $1 billion and keep growing.

AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner