U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell secured a long-awaited federal victory for industrial hemp production in Kentucky today as he obtained language in the final version of the Farm Bill that would allow state departments of agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp. Senator McConnell crafted this language in order to give the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer the flexibility to cultivate hemp for pilot programs in Kentucky.
Following Senate and House passage of their respective Farm Bills, Senator McConnell, through his role as Senate Republican Leader, appointed Senate Republicans to the 2014 Farm Bill conference, the group charged with finalizing the Farm Bill. Senator McConnell worked with the conferees to include his language in the final bill which gives Commissioner Comer the permission needed to move forward with pilot programs for industrial hemp cultivation. Additionally, Senator McConnell worked with House Speaker John Boehner to protect the language from opposition in conference.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) first brought hemp to Kentucky's attention when he cosponsored legislation in the 112th Congress that would have excluded industrial hemp from federal regulation under the Controlled Substance Act. The legislation carved out industrial hemp from the federal Controlled Substance Act, which currently does not distinguish industrial hemp from marijuana. Industrial hemp lacks the high quantities of the active ingredient THC found in the abuse-prone marijuana. Senator Paul, along with Senator McConnell, cosponsored this legislation when it was reintroduced in the 113th Congress.
Representative Thomas Massie (KY-04) introduced similar legislation in the House in February of 2013. Further, in June of last year, Representatives Massie and Andy Barr (KY-05) supported language in the House-version of the Farm Bill allowing institutions of higher education to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of agricultural or academic research. This language passed on July 11, 2013 as a part of the House Farm Bill, which Senator McConnell then expanded in the final conference report to include pilot programs for state agricultural departments.
"This is an important victory for Kentucky's farmers, and I was pleased to be able to secure this language on behalf of our state. I applaud Commissioner Comer, Senator Paul and Congressmen Massie and Barr for their work to highlight the importance of this issue," Senator McConnell said. "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."
Since being sworn in as Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner Comer has taken the lead in Kentucky, along with State Sen. Paul Hornback who serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, on industrial hemp as they secured passage for Senate Bill 50 in the Kentucky State Legislature that legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp on the state level. The bill became law without the Governor's signature on April 7, 2013. However, a critical federal component was missing in order for Kentuckians to begin to grow and establish a market for industrial hemp. The McConnell provision secured in the Farm Bill Conference Report will allow Kentucky to take its first steps toward developing a market for industrial hemp.