First, there is a battle being waged between Democrats and POTUS Donald Trump regarding his demand for a paltry $5 billion in funding for his border wall. Most Republicans have signed off on the funding but Democrats refuse to budge, which has led to the “government shutdown” you likely heard about in the news.
But congressional funding of another annual piece of otherwise routine legislation — the so-called Farm Bill, which funds the Department of Agriculture and its various programs — was extremely noteworthy this year for a provision it contained legalizing widespread cultivation of hemp. (Related: President Trump just ended hemp prohibition across America, legalizing industrial hemp farming nationwide.)
And we have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to thank for it.
As the Brookings Institute noted in an “explainer,” in the past McConnell and other Republican leaders were not interested in pushing through measures aimed at relaxing the strict regulatory regime surrounding the growing of the cannabis plant.
But the 2018 Farm Bill makes some significant changes, Brookings notes:
The allowed pilot programs to study hemp (often labeled “industrial hemp”) that were approved by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state departments of agriculture... allowed small-scale expansion of hemp cultivation for limited purposes. The 2018 Farm Bill is more expansive. It allows hemp cultivation broadly, not simply pilot programs for studying market interest in hemp-derived products. It explicitly allows the transfer of hemp-derived products across state lines for commercial or other purposes. It also puts no restrictions on the sale, transport, or possession of hemp-derived products, so long as those items are produced in a manner consistent with the law.
This doesn’t mean that there is now a system that allows businesses and individuals to grow hemp whenever or wherever they want; several restrictions remain, the think tank’s explainer noted.
For instance, the hemp grown cannot ‘get you high;’ it cannot contain more than 0.3 percent of THC, the compound most associated with cannabis that does just that. Any cannabis plant containing more THC than the listed amount would be considered marijuana and thus subject to existing federal laws governing the use and possession of it.
In addition, the Farm Bill provides federal and state oversight of the production and cultivation of hemp. It requires that state agriculture departments consult with governors and their chief law enforcement official to create a plan that must be submitted to the federal secretary of Agriculture. If a state does not want to craft a hemp regulatory plan, then the USDA will create one and cultivators will have to apply to that agency for a license while complying with a federally-operated program.
The new law also outlines what are considered to be violations of federal hemp regulations such as cultivating cannabis plants without a license or producing plants that contain a THC concentration in excess of 0.3 percent.
There are other benefits as well, such as continuing efforts to fund hemp research and treating hemp cultivation like other farming operations. But none of this would have been possible without McConnell’s leadership.
“Many advocates applaud Leader McConnell for his stewardship of these hemp provisions into the Farm Bill and his leadership on the legislation overall. That assessment is accurate,” Brookings’ John Hudak, a senior fellow of government studies, wrote.
Were it not for McConnell’s actions and effort, these new hemp provisions would not have been attached to the farm bill legislation. Not only that, but he also made sure to appoint himself to the House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the farm bill’s final version.
Hudak said not only does McConnell understand much about hemp, his home state of Kentucky is one of the best areas in the world to grow it.
Read more about the science surrounding hemp at HempScience.news.