A bi-partisan bill introduced in the United States Senate on Thursday could legalize industrial hemp, a move supporters say would open up new markets in Kentucky and other states.
Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, along with Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, joined this week to introduce the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013. The legislation would remove hemp from the list of Schedule I controlled substances, defining it as a non-drug and clearing the way for farmers to begin cultivation.
A chorus of support for the legalization of industrial hemp in the U.S. has been growing in recent years, especially here in Kentucky where a bill was also approved in the Kentucky Senate on Thursday that sets up a framework of regulation in the event the federal government lifts prohibitions on the plant.
Hemp, a close relative to marijuana, has been hailed for its industrial uses, from textiles to its inclusion in every day products such as shampoo and paper. Though the plant does contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that produces a “high” when ingested or smoked, the amount is actually less than 0.3 percent in industrial hemp. Marijuana generally contains from 5 to 10 percent THC, and even up to 15 percent.
Industrial hemp represents a potential boon for Kentucky’s job markets, Sen. Paul said this week, as its cultivation could led to new jobs for farmers across Kentucky.
“The Industrial Hemp Farming Act paves the way to creating jobs for Kentucky,” Sen. Paul said. “Allowing American farmers to cultivate industrial hemp and benefit from its many uses will boost our state’s economy and bring much-needed jobs in the agriculture community. Today’s State Senate victory, coupled with the efforts Sen. McConnell and I are making here in Washington increase my confidence that they will soon payoff, to the benefit of Kentuckians.”
And while support for industrial hemp is growing, there remains a bevy of opposition, especially in the law enforcement field. Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer testified in Frankfort this week that regulating hemp, in part due to its close appearance to marijuana, could be a costly endeavor. Additionally, chemical analysis must be performed on the plants in order to determine if the hemp being cultivated falls below that THC concentration of 0.3 percent that would constitute it being used for industrial rather than illicit purposes.
Kentucky, however, does have a past in which hemp played a role in the agriculture economy, as do other states such as Ohio, Wisconsin and California. That economic effect could be revived, and this is an impact the country needs, said McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader.
“I am proud to introduce legislation with my friend Rand Paul that will allow Kentucky farmers to harness the economic potential that industrial hemp can provide,” Sen. McConnell said. “During these tough economic times, this legislation has the potential to create jobs and provide a boost to Kentucky’s economy and to our farmers and their families.”