Mitch McConnell is the last person on earth you’d expect to be a hero to the marijuana movement, but that is exactly what the ultraconservative Senate majority leader became Monday morning. The right-wing Kentucky senator, perhaps best known for Jon Stewart’s Daily Show impersonations of him as a turtle, pulled a rabbit out of his hat and announced he’s introducing a bill to legalize hemp nationwide.
Hemp and marijuana are not the exact same thing. But they’re close enough that the federal government still classifies hemp as a Schedule 1 illegal drug, as if it were marijuana. Hemp is the cannabis plant used to extract the non-psychoactive compound CBD that relieves pain and “doesn’t get you high.” (Hemp has less than .3 percent THC, the marijuana you buy at dispensaries has up to 30 percent THC.) Hemp is also an insanely versatile plant species that can produce paper, clothing, biofuel, and so much more.
“We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky’s past,” McConnell said at a Monday press conference, according to Forbes. “I will be introducing when I go back to senate a week from today,” a bill he said would “finally legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances.”
According to a release from Sen. McConnell’s office, he has at least one other Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, on board. McConnell also claims his proposal has the support of a “bipartisan group of members.”
UPDATED: McConnell’s office emails to say the bill will not only change hemp’s status under the law but will also set aside federal grant money for hemp farmers.
Taxpayer-subsidized cannabis cultivation. Welcome to the future. https://t.co/GLm63pAzWA
— Tom Angell 🌳📰 (@tomangell) March 26, 2018
As Marijuana Moment’s Tom Angell points out, McConnell’s bill also provides tax-funded grants to cannabis farmers! “It will also give hemp researchers the chance to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” McConnell’s press release says.
Let’s be honest, Republican Mitch McConnell is much more interested in bringing gobs of pork spending to his home state of Kentucky than he is in cannabis freedom. But what he’s doing here is a landmark shot across the bow for legalization. If this bill passes (and it has not yet even been introduced, or even written), it would essentially legalize hemp farming, and the sale of CBD products, in all 50 states.
More importantly, the fact that this hemp legislation comes from a Republican means that cannabis is undeniably becoming more mainstream. Attorney general Jeff Sessions is still waging war on legal marijuana, and his office refused to comment on this legislation. But oh, I would give anything to be a fly on the wall in Jeff Sessions’ office when he got the news that Republicans in Congress were trying to legalize hemp.