Updated 12:36 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is taking credit for one provision in the five-year farm bill : industrial hemp, having led an effort to insert expanded language in the conference report.
Kentucky has enacted industrial hemp legislation at the state level. A source familiar with the negotiations said the expanded language was drafted in McConnell's office and inserted at his behest.
The language will allow Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James R. Comer to go ahead with a pilot program allowing cultivation of industrial hemp, which is a type of cannabis that contains far less THC than is found in marijuana. It nonetheless has been similarly treated under federal law.
"By giving Commissioner Comer the go ahead to cultivate hemp for pilot programs, we are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers. By exploring innovative ways to use hemp to benefit a variety of Kentucky industries, while avoiding negative impact to Kentucky law enforcement's efforts at marijuana interdiction, the pilot programs authorized by this legislation could help boost our state’s economy," McConnell said in a statement touting the provision.
His office said that McConnell worked with the conferees to make sure the language survived to make its way into the House-Senate conference agreement.
The House farm bill contained a much narrower pilot program that would've applied only to certain academic research ventures. It was enough in the view of parliamentary experts to make the expanded pilot program fit within the scope of the conference's work, however.
Sen. Rand Paul was the first of the Kentucky GOP senators to champion differentiating between marijuana and industrial hemp.
When #WGDB was invited by Paul's office to meet with Comer to discuss hemp policy during a trip to D.C. back in May, the up-and-coming Kentucky Republican made his pitch with a reference to one of the most legendary senators in history.
"You can make textiles. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper," Comer said at the time. "It was a leading crop that Henry Clay grew and Abraham Lincoln’s in-laws grew in Kentucky."
The hemp language in the new farm bill conference agreement comes in rapidly evolving national debate over the broader issue of decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., recently said that legalizing the hemp production could prove a bellwether for the bigger debate, although hemp advocates have said their case is a separate matter.