Pubdate: Tue, 27 Mar 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press


FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The U.S. Senate's top leader said Monday he wants to
bring hemp production back into the mainstream by removing it from the
controlled substances list that now associates it with its cousin
– marijuana.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told hemp advocates in his home
state of Kentucky that he will introduce legislation to legalize the
crop as an agricultural commodity. The versatile crop has been grown
on an experimental basis in a number of states in recent years.

"It's now time to take the final step and make this a legal crop,"
McConnell said.

Kentucky has been at the forefront of hemp's comeback. Kentucky
agriculture officials recently approved more than 12,000 acres to be
grown in the state this year, and 57 Kentucky processors are helping
turn the raw product into a multitude of products.

The promised move was applauded by hemp supporters in

"If this is true, this is the greatest moment in recent hemp history,"
said attorney Andrew Sacks, the co-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar
Association's Medical Marijuana and Hemp Law Committee. "This will
create millions of new jobs and bring hemp CBDs to the masses. Soon
you will able to buy hemp CBDs at CVS pharmacies instead of opioids."

CBDs, or cannabidiols, are molecular compounds in hemp products that
are believed to have pain-relieving effects.

Growing hemp without a federal permit has long been banned due to its
classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp
and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has a negligible amount
of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Hemp got a limited reprieve with the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which
allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp projects for
research and development. So far, 34 states have authorized hemp
research, while actual production occurred in 19 states last year,
said Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp. Hemp
production totaled 25,541 acres in 2017, more than double the 2016
output, he said.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Agriculture in February approved 39
research projects that will allow cultivation of about 1,000 acres of
marijuana's non-psychoactive cousin. Last year, 14 growers produced a
total of 36 acres of hemp statewide.

Gov. Wolf supports the legalization of hemp. Agriculture Secretary
Russell Redding this month sent letters of support to Pennsylvania's
congressional delegation noting that industrial hemp has many
properties that, if legitimized, could provide additional markets and
opportunities for farmers.. "Ultimately, the designation of industrial
hemp as a controlled substance is a barrier to the farmers who wish to
see this crop find an appropriate home in the marketplace," said
Redding's spokesman, Casey Smith.

The crop, which once thrived in Kentucky, was historically used for
rope but has many other uses, including clothing and mulch from the
fiber, hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and soap and lotions.
Other uses include building materials, animal bedding and biofuels.

Hemp advocates fighting for years to restore the crop's legitimacy
hailed McConnell's decision to put his political influence behind the
effort to make it a legal crop again.

"This is a huge development for the hemp industry," Steenstra said.
"Sen. McConnell's support is critical to helping us move hemp from
research and pilot programs to full commercial production."

Brian Furnish, an eighth-generation tobacco farmer in Kentucky, has
started making the switch to hemp production. His family will grow
about 300 acres of hemp this year in Harrison County. He's also part
owner of a company that turns hemp into food, fiber and dietary

Furnish said hemp has the potential to rival or surpass what tobacco
production once meant to Kentucky.

"All we've got to do is the government get out of the way and let us
grow," he told reporters.

McConnell acknowledged there was "some queasiness" about hemp in 2014
when federal lawmakers cleared the way for states to regulate it for
research and pilot programs. There's much broader understanding now
that hemp is a "totally different" plant than its illicit cousin, he

"I think we've worked our way through the education process of making
sure everybody understands this is really a different plant," the
Republican leader said.

McConnell said he plans to have those discussions with Attorney
General Jeff Sessions to emphasize the differences between the plants.
The Trump administration has taken a tougher stance on marijuana.

The Department of Justice's press office did not immediately respond
to an email seeking comment.

McConnell said his bill will attract a bipartisan group of
co-sponsors. He said the measure would allow states to have primary
regulatory oversight of hemp production if they submit plans to
federal agriculture officials outlining how they would monitor production.

"We're going to give it everything we've got to pull it off," he

In Kentucky, current or ex-tobacco farmers could easily make the
conversion to hemp production, Furnish said. Equipment and barns used
for tobacco can be used to produce hemp, he said. Tobacco production
dropped sharply in Kentucky amid declining smoking rates.

Furnish said his family has reaped profits of about $2,000 per acre
for hemp grown for dietary supplements, better than what they've made
from tobacco, he said.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, whose
great-grandfather grew hemp for rope to support the war effort in the
1940s, said he hopes hemp's legalization can "open the floodgates and
we can see the true potential of this crop."

"We hope to position Kentucky to maximize the benefit of this crop
once legalized, so the economic activity stays right here," he said.
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