Tags: Marijuana Legalization | Mitch McConnell | industrial hemp | legalization

Hemp Legalization Advocates Have Powerful Ally In McConnell

Image: Hemp Legalization Advocates Have Powerful Ally In McConnell
(Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Landov)

By    |   Tuesday, 03 Mar 2015 01:45 PM

While legalization of marijuana may remain a controversial issue, there is growing support among lawmakers to place a legal imprimatur on the cultivation of industrial hemp, and one of its biggest and unlikeliest supporters is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"I was proud to include the measure in the Farm Bill that gave Commissioner Comer the go-ahead to cultivate hemp for pilot programs, while maintaining my long-standing support for Kentucky's law enforcement's aggressive efforts at marijuana interdiction," McConnell said last fall in praising the harvest of the University of Kentucky's first hemp crop.

With the Kentuckian's support, a provision was included in the 2014 Farm Bill that permits institutions of higher education, as well as individual state departments of agriculture, to grow or cultivate industrial hemp as long as the sites are certified and registered within the state.

It also allowed for the examination of industrial hemp for possible future commercial considerations.

McConnell, as well as most of Kentucky's congressional delegation, are pushing for the legalization of industrial hemp, according to The Courier-Journal.

For McConnell, the issue is a matter of providing an alternative crop for farmers in his state.

"We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers. And by exploring innovative ways to use industrial hemp to benefit a variety of Kentucky industries, the pilot programs could help boost our state's economy and lead to future jobs. … I look forward to seeing industrial hemp prosper in the Commonwealth," the majority leader told Politico.

For Kentucky farmers, legalization could provide an economic boom.

"People used to downplay the number of jobs industrial hemp might create and say, 'well it's a few thousand jobs and a couple million in commerce.'" But legalizing the crop has the potential to create 10 times as many jobs "as the Keystone XL pipeline will create 10 years from now," Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie told Politico.

While McConnell backs the use of hemp as a commercial product, a former campaign aide says it does not diminish his commitment to illegal drug use.

He is "very concerned about the abuse of illegal drugs," former McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton told Politico.

"But he was able to follow the hemp argument and have his eyes opened and his mind changed. It speaks to the power of the argument of the pro-hemp movement. The logic and the reasoning are so overwhelmingly convincing," said Benton.

One of the more vocal opponents of legalization is House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, also from Kentucky, who has said he is not convinced the state needs a "pathway for industrial hemp," and that legalization would place a burden on law enforcement officers who would have to visually distinguish between hemp and marijuana, according to the Journal-Courier.

The support for industrial hemp is growing among states, and almost 20 state legislatures have already cleared the way for industrial production by hemp as distinct from marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

On Monday, New Mexico's state Senate approved the cultivation of industrial hemp for research purposes, The Associated Press reports.

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There is growing support among lawmakers to place a legal imprimatur on the cultivation of industrial hemp, and one of its biggest and unlikeliest supporters is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Mitch McConnell, industrial hemp, legalization
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2015-45-03
Tuesday, 03 Mar 2015 01:45 PM
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