Earlier today, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he wants hemp removed from the list of controlled substances and would seek to legalize it as an agricultural commodity, according to The Washington Post.
Declassification would allow farmers to grow hemp without a federal permit, offering states more control over the hemp industry and easing the regulatory start-up costs faced by growers. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), seeks to lessen the stigma surrounding hemp products.
Hemp—a product that does not contain enough THC to possess the psychoactive properties of cannabis—has long been punished by the drug war for being tangentially related to pot. In states where hemp is legal, hemp products must contain no more than .003 percent in order to stay on the market. And yet it's useful in a number of products, including textiles, food, and oils.
"We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky's past," said McConnell at a press conference, according to Forbes.
As a Kentucky native, McConnell has long been an advocate of hemp as a cash crop. In 2014, McConnell also supported the Farm Bill, which authorized state agriculture departments to create and commercialize industrial hemp research programs in partnership with universities. Since it passed, Kentucky's hemp industry has been booming.
In 2017, hemp production and cultivation research was approved for more than 12,800 acres in 71 Kentucky counties—and that number is expected to grow, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Following Kentucky's lead, 30 other states have approved hemp research programs.
McConnell also mentioned he's open to speaking with Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a staunch proponent of the drug war—about the hemp industry.
"Some challenges remain today between the federal government and farmers and producers in Kentucky," McConnell said at the event, suggesting he will continue to use legislative powers to stress the difference between "hemp and its illicit cousin."