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Mitch McConnell Steps Up Hemp Legalization Push With Legislative Move

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is moving to include the language of his new hemp legalization bill into broader must-pass legislation that is expected to advance in Congress next month.

McConnell’s current standalone hemp bill, which he introduced this month, would remove non-psychoactive cannabis varieties known as hemp from the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of marijuana.

The GOP leader has often talked about the economic boost that hemp could bring to rural communities in his home state of Kentucky.

“Who knows how big it could be. Tobacco was awfully big. I don’t know whether it could be that big or not. But there won’t be an argument about whether it’s not good for you,” he said in a new interview with WKDZ radio. “Hemp could end up in your car’s dashboard. It could end up in your food It could end up in your medicine. It has many diverse potential uses, and we’re optimistic it could be very significant for Kentucky agriculture.”

But that can only really happen, McConnell says, if hemp is legalized.

“First we have to make it legal,” he said, “and that’s what we intend to do in this year’s Farm Bill.”

The Farm Bill, brought up in Congress every few years, sets food and agriculture policy for the country. McConnell wants to use this year’s version as a vehicle for hemp reform.

“As the majority leader, I’m in charge of what we schedule, and we’re going to be scheduling the Farm Bill very soon after it comes out of the Agriculture Committee, and I expect that to happen in May,” he said in the new interview.

The bill that McConnell already introduced would remove restrictions on banking access, water rights and other roadblocks that hemp farmers and processors currently face. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would receive oversight plans from states, and then state departments of agriculture would regulate local production. The bill would also make USDA research funding available to farmers, and hemp plants would be eligible for crop insurance.

Earlier this month, McConnell used procedural moves to fast-track the hemp legislation to the Senate floor, circumventing the committee process. But he has not scheduled it for a vote.

Now, in the new interview, he made it clear that the plan is to attach the cannabis reform language to the larger agriculture legislation.

McConnell already successfully inserted more limited hemp language to the last version of the Farm Bill, enacted in 2014, which shields state industrial hemp research programs from federal interference but does not entirely legalize the crop in the way the new bill would.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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