Marijuana remains illegal on a federal level, but should America legalize a non-drug variant with agricultural and industrial uses? Mitch McConnell thinks so despite his strong opposition to legalizing marijuana.
Hemp is a substance made from the same cannabis plant as marijuana, except it can’t get you high. Instead, it’s used to make items including cardboard, carpets, clothes, lotion, paper, rope, and soap.The drug part of marijuana comes from the buds or the leaves, while hemp comes from the stalks or seeds.
Nonetheless, hemp is currently on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) list of controlled substances, at least in part, since it comes from the cannabis plant. There are some uses of hemp which are legal, but it’s not fully legal as many advocates believe it should be. It has, however, been legal to_import_ hemp products from other countries since 1998.
What the bill does
The Hemp Farming Act would fully legalize hemp. It was introduced in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the Senate’s most stringent adversaries of legalized marijuana.
It would also remove most existing restrictions or regulations limiting hemp growers’ access to banking or crop insurance, among other things.
What supporters say
Supporters say the bill would be a help to farmers, agriculturalists, and consumers who wish to purchase hemp products free of unnecessarily intrusive government.
“During the recent state work period, I talked to a number of farmers, manufacturers, and small business owners who expressed enthusiasm for hemp’s potential,” Sen. McConnell said in a press release. (Kentucky farmers want it legalized in part due to plunging sales from tobacco and cigarettes.)
“[This bill] which will build upon the success of the hemp pilot programs and spur innovation and growth within the industry,” McConnell continued. “By legalizing hemp and empowering states to conduct their own oversight plans, we can give the hemp industry the tools necessary to create jobs and new opportunities for farmers and manufacturers.”
McConnell on marijuana
However, Sen. McConnell still remains opposed to legalizing the other main substance that comes from the cannabis plant.
“I’m against legalizing marijuana,” McConnell told Kentucky radio station WVLK in 2014. “Certainly it’s not in the same category as heroin, but I think to begin … to sort of send the message that we’re giving up, you know, that this is just the way it’s going to be, then one thing leads to another and pretty soon … you completely transform your society in a way that I think certainly most Kentuckians would not agree with.”
What opponents say
Opponents of hemp counter that the legislation would actually be a backchannel for marijuana legalization, which most members of Congress still oppose.
“The threat of diversion into the illicit drug trade associated with the cultivation of hemp/marijuana would not be in the public interest,” the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has said.
“Marijuana drug dealers will pay many times higher for hemp as a mix with higher grade marijuana to increase their profit than the hemp market could offer. There is no reliable field test to distinguish fiber-hemp from other varieties, therefore, law enforcement would be unable to arrest cannabis violators based on the required ‘probable cause’ standard.”
President Trump himself does not appear to have spoken about the issue yet. But Greg Ibach, Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, cautioned against moving too fast as he believes McConnell’s bill might do.
“Opening the door wide open nationwide, with no restrictions, may not be in the best interests of the hemp industry,” Ibach told Hemp Industry Daily. “We need to be careful so that we don’t kill the market for hemp by overburdening the market with supply before there is demand for it.”
Odds of passage
The Senate version has attracted 10 bipartisan cosponsors: seven Democrats or Democratic-affiliated independents with three Republicans.
The House version has one Democratic cosponsor: Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO2). It awaits a possible vote in either House Agriculture or Energy & Commerce Committees.