The top Republican in the US Senate wants to legalize hemp.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill on Thursday that would remove federal barriers to hemp, which is derived from the cannabis plant but, as a nonpsychoactive substance, can’t get someone high. Hemp, instead, is typically used for its fiber to make all kinds of products — food, paper, cardboard, carpets, clothes, rope, and more.
Hemp has historically been banned under federal drug laws that also prohibit marijuana. As Tom Angell reported at Forbes, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 wouldn’t legalize pot for recreational or medical uses at the federal level, where psychoactive weed remains illegal for all purposes. It would only legalize hemp.
McConnell said last month that he hopes hemp “can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky’s past.” As Don Sergent reported for Kentucky news outlets, some farmers in the state are similarly hoping that hemp can make up for the losses they’re now seeing in tobacco as the nation has realized the health risks posed by cigarettes.
The bill is also backed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). And a companion bill has been introduced in the House.
It remains unclear how likely the bill is to pass Congress and get President Donald Trump’s signature. But having the support of the top Republican in the Senate certainly helps.
As it stands, farmers face several barriers to growing hemp due to federal prohibition — including restricted access to banking, water rights, and crop insurance. The bill would remove these restrictions, putting the US Department of Agriculture and state agencies in charge of regulations.
There are already limited research programs for hemp, which McConnell has supported in the past. And it’s actually already legal to sell hemp products — but cultivation is banned in most cases.
Meanwhile, nine states and Washington, DC, have legalized the psychoactive form of cannabis for recreational purposes, while 29 states have for medical uses. McConnell, however, has historically opposed those forms of legalization.
For more on marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.