The Senate Majority Leader sees hemp as a boon for Kentucky farmers and his own reelection next year.
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Politics is legendary for making for strange bedfellows but it doesn’t get any stranger than hearing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, staunch Republican from Kentucky, tell reporters earlier this month that he is behind quickly cleaning up any “glitches” with the U.S. hemp industry.
That’s an issue most would associate with Democrats but money talks and there’s a lot of money talking about hemp. McConnell, who successfully led the charge to legalize hemp farming in the 2018 Farm Bill, has vowed to do whatever is necessary to get a regulated hemp system running smoothly.
McConnel, speaking in football analogies, described hemp supporters as in the “red zone,” according to the Associated Press. “I’m prepared to do my job … all the way into the end zone if it requires additional legislation,” McConnell said
How important is this to McConnell? The Senate majority leader put himself on the farm bill conference committee as “insurance” that hemp legalization would get included in the bill, according to Roll Call.
Why Is McConnell a hemp supporter?
To understand McConnell’s willingness to use the power of the Senate Majority Leader officer to hammer out any problems for the hemp industry, it’s important to understand the current state of farming in Kentucky, particularly tobacco farming. Fewer people are smoking each year, tobacco sales are falling and demand for what has been a major cash crop for generations is also falling. By contrast, hemp is “four times more profitable than corn or soybeans,” according to CNBC and has immense growth potential.
McConnell is trying to establish Kentucky as a hemp “processor hub,” the term used by Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles. He told CNBC that “industrial hemp is promising and is the fastest area of growth in Kentucky agriculture. We don’t know if industrial hemp will replace tobacco, but we are going to champion it.”
Roll Call also noted that, not surprisingly, getting the hemp industry running smoothly could prove key to McConnell’s reelection in 2020.
How McConnell can help hemp.
Two of the biggest current problems for hemp producers are shipments getting stopped by law enforcement and the lack of financial services for hemp companies.
Both Oregon and Kentucky have farmers who are big producers of hemp. Many of them ship their hemp to Colorado for processing. However, some shipments have been detained by law enforcement officers who have no way to test the difference between hemp and marijuana on the road. Legal hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the chemical ingredient in cannabis that causes the high
McConnell and other federal and state officials are calling for better communication between federal regulators and law enforcement and the development of better testing protocols.
A larger issue is the lack of access to financial services for cannabis-related businesses. This long-standing issue revolves around the fact that banks will not offer financial services to the marijuana industry because the plant remains an illegal drug in the eyes of the federal government. Most marijuana businesses operate on a cash-only basis or through expensive work arounds with payment processors.
McConnell has “urged” federal financial regulatory agencies to issue guidance to financial institutions, letting them know that hemp is not the same as marijuana, according to the AP. He’s been joined in the effort by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat.
It’s also an issue that Democrats such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have tried to address.
The banking issue is another example of how cannabis and hemp, and the millions they can bring both private businesses and taxing agencies, are leading to politicians crossing the aisle in ways they do not with many other issues.
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