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McConnell Uses Clout to Help Hemp Industry

McConnell wants to expand the market for industrial hemp grown in Kentucky. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be the best friend in Washington for the nascent industrial hemp industry.  

The Kentucky Republican announced Thursday he had secured hemp-processing language in an Agriculture Department spending bill.  

"Kentucky’s industrial hemp pilot programs continue to prosper and I want to make sure our legal hemp producers can safely transport their crops between states, including to States that maintain processing facilities, so they can fully capitalize on the commercial potential for this commodity," McConnell said in a statement.  

The fiscal 2016 bill advanced through the Appropriations Committee earlier Thursday. The Kentucky Republican is a longtime member of the panel, and he told CQ Roll Call last year that he intended to hold on to it when he became majority leader because it had some benefits for his native commonwealth.  

"I have not been active in committee work since I became leader. But, I think it is to the advantage of my state to have the opportunity to come to meetings occasionally and to vote in person, rather than just by proxy," McConnell said in the December 2014 interview . "So, yeah, I do intend to do that because occasionally it’s helpful to be there in person and to directly participate."  

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has been engaged in a hemp pilot program, and the language in the Agriculture spending bill follows an effort to protect legal hemp production from interference by the Justice Department as part of the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill.  

Industrial hemp is made from low-THC strains of the marijuana plant, and 13 states having approved production, according to a March report by the National Conference of State Legislatures .  

While the regular appropriations process has run aground on the floors of both the House and Senate, the committees have steadily produced bills, likely now for inclusion in a catchall spending package that would most likely come after a period of stopgap funding through a continuing resolution.

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