Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul team up on hemp legalization

Updated
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. supports hemp production in his state.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. supports hemp production in his state.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have teamed up in an unlikely duo to high-five plans to legalize it–hemp, that is.

The Senate minority leader cosponsored a bill with two Oregon senators Thursday to federally legalize hemp, a variety of the plant species that also produces marijuana. If passed, the bill will downgrade the virtually-harmless hemp from its current federal standing as a Schedule I illegal drug, the FDA’s most severe classification (other Schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD).

“During these tough economic times, this legislation has the potential to create jobs and provide a boost to Kentucky’s economy and to our farmers and their families,” McConnell said in a statement Thursday.

The bill–co-sponsored by Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley–would help clear the way for industrial hemp production. Hemp has a variety of legal uses; it can be made into fabrics, textiles, and strong rope, as well soap, paper, and plastic substitutes. McConnell hopes to reap the economic benefits of these hemp products by letting Kentucky farmers grow hemp with impunity.

The Kentucky State Senate voted Thursday to legalize hemp, and fellow Sen. Rand Paul has endorsed McConnell’s bill wholeheartedly. Paul testified at Kentucky’s Senate Agriculture Committee Monday in favor of hemp, while wearing a shirt made of the stuff.

“I wanted to show off my hemp shirt,” Paul said. “I had to buy it in Canada though. And we have soap manufacturers who would like to use the seed from hemp-plant–they got to import it. So, basically, we’re exporting our profit to Canada. I see no reason why we wouldn’t want to be a leader in this.”

Coming from Cannabis sativa, a plant variety used to produce marijuana, hemp does contain THC–the chemical that cause marijuana’s high–but in very small quantities. Frankly, it can’t get you stoned. Still, opponents suggest that legalizing hemp will make it hard to stop marijuana farmers, since the crop is so similar. Paul brushed that criticism away in his remarks, assuring Kentuckians that such concerns are surmountable. “If this I thought this was going to allow marijuana to take off in our state, I wouldn’t be for it,” he said.

Until McConnell’s bill passes, or until the passage of a similar federal law legalizing hemp, Kentucky’s state legalization will be largely moot. Federal persecutors would still be able to go after hemp growers. It’s the same in Oregon, where hemp production has been legalized statewide, and it’s legal to import hemp fibers.

According to McConnell’s statement, Kentucky produced 94% of the nation’s hemp before the Second World War. Indeed, before growing Hemp was made illegal in the 1930s, it was widely grown in the U.S., even encouraged for a time during World War II when the navy faced a shortage. As a 1942 U.S. propaganda film proclaimed, “Hemp for mooring ships, hemp for tow lines, hemp for tackle and gear, hemp for countless naval uses both on ship and shore…hemp for victory!”

McConnell and Paul want to see the profits from this valuable product come back to America. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”

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Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul team up on hemp legalization

Updated