McConnell’s year-end wish: Getting Congress to legalize hemp
Pressed for time and pushed to move quickly on a border wall and criminal justice reform, the Senate’s top leader has his own priority in Congress’ lame-duck session: passing a farm bill that includes a full pardon for hemp, the non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana that’s making a comeback in his home state.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has guaranteed that his proposal to make hemp a legal agricultural commodity, removing it from the federal list of controlled substances, will be part of the final farm bill, a crucial measure for rural America and Kentucky, where the Republican senator faces re-election in 2020. He places it on a par with federal spending bills as action Congress must take before the end of the year.
Keeping that promise would cap a decadeslong journey to overcome the stigma associated with the crop, which McConnell himself did not initially embrace wholeheartedly. But in recent years, the quintessential establishment Republican has been all in for the hemp revolution.
McConnell put himself on the conference committee assigned to negotiate a compromise farm bill. Work requirements for food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, have been the biggest stumbling block holding up an agreement.
Kentucky has emerged as a leader in developing a hemp industry and as a place where legalizing the crop went from a fringe issue to a mainstream cause. Fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Republican U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie and James Comer are strong supporters, too.
But it’s McConnell’s backing that has put the long-banned crop on the verge of winning a full pardon.
“We are very fortunate to have Sen. McConnell as our top advocate in Congress,” said Eric Steenstra, president of the hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp.
Comer, a leading hemp proponent since his days as Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner, likes the provision’s chances this year.
“It’s going to happen,” he said.