The Senate Majority Leader hopes to get the Farm Bill approved by Congress before the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last week guaranteed that the final version of the new Farm Bill would make hemp legal under federal law. Talking to reporters in Kentucky on Friday, McConnell said that lawmakers are still ironing out details on the mammoth legislation, but he is confident that provisions legalizing hemp as an agricultural commodity would be included.
“They will be,” McConnell told reporters. “If there’s a farm bill it will be in there, I guarantee you that. We’re trying right now to make sure there’s a farm bill and before the end of the year.”
The Senate earlier this year passed its version of the Farm Bill. It included provisions to legalize hemp, removing it from the federal list of controlled substances so that it could be grown, processed, and sold as an agricultural commodity.
The version passed by the House in June, however, did not include a similar provision. The two competing versions now have to be merged.
McConnell is a key negotiator in the joint farm bill conference committee tasked with crafting the new legislation that will pass the House and Senate. The Kentucky Republican has spearheaded the effort to remove hemp from the controlled substances list and distinguish it from marijuana.
Congress left town prior to the midterm elections without coming to an agreement on the bill. Progress has slowed over disagreements over work requirements for food stamps.
McConnell told reporters his objective is to have hemp production only “lightly” regulated by the federal agricultural department. Growers would need to register with their state’s agricultural department or contact officials in their states so law enforcement could ensure that what’s being planted is hemp and not marijuana.
Potential Future of Hemp in the U.S.
Hemp and marijuana are of the same Cannabis sativa L. plant species, but the two plants have distinct differences. Hemp contains only negligible amounts of THC, the intoxicating compound found in higher levels in marijuana that causes a high. Hemp is instead grown and harvested for its seeds and stalk, which are used to manufacture a wide array of products.
Hemp has a long history in America. The crop was historically used to make rope, but has more than 25,000 product applications, including clothing, paper, food, body care products, biofuel, green building materials, and cannabidiol (CBD) supplements.
Under current law, hemp products are legal to buy and sell in the U.S., but the hemp itself must be imported. Removing hemp as a controlled substance would open up commercial opportunities for domestic farmers.
“It’s interesting to think about what it could be,” said McConnell. “I don’t want to overstate this – I don’t know whether it’s going to be the next tobacco or not, but I do think it has a lot of potential. And as all of you already know, in terms of food and medicine but also car parts. I mean, it’s an extraordinary plant.”
Hemp started its comeback to the U.S. with the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, signed into law by Barack Obama. The legislation included a provision that has allowed states to pursue research and development. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky is one of more than 30 states that have so far taken advantage of the policy.