NAIHC.org, Washington, DC, March 3, 2015 – Under the headline “Mitch McConnell’s Love Affair with Hemp – How the Kentucky senator picked a fight with the DEA and became one of Washington’s top drug policy reformers,” a Politico news article explains why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came to support legalizing industrial hemp.
The article notes that McConnell continues to work for full legalization of industrial hemp:
“This year, as Senate majority leader, he’s taken a further step by co-sponsoring the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015. While the farm bill carved out an exception to allow hemp cultivation in Kentucky, the 2015 bill would remove hemp entirely from the list of drugs strictly regulated by the Controlled Substances Act. It would, in essence, legalize hemp production in the United States.”
In the lengthy article focused on the Republican leader, Kentuckian James Higdon explains that McConnell stepped in personally to confront Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart in May 2014 after the DEA seized 250 pounds of hemp seed Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture was importing to re-start hemp growing in Kentucky.
At the meeting in McConnell’s Senate office, Leonhart told McConnell the DEA was still reviewing the language in the Farm Bill to determine the “intent” of the hemp provision which authorized growing hemp in state research programs. What McConnell said back to Leonhart is clear from the press release which McConnell’s office sent out after the meeting, quoting McConnell: “I also stressed that as the author of the industrial hemp provision, the intent of this provision is to allow states departments of agriculture and universities to explore the commercial use of industrial hemp as a means for job creation and economic development. The language expressly exempts hemp from federal regulation for these defined purposes.”
That McConnell meeting resulted in the DEA backing down and releasing the seed.
The Politico article details McConnell’s earlier meetings with industrial hemp supporters, with soon-to-be Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., and with outspoken hemp advocate Jamie Comer, now Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner. After Paul won his Senate seat in 2011, “Paul encouraged McConnell to consider the hemp issue because it was favored by conservatives and Tea Party types, according to two sources familiar with those discussions. McConnell listened.”
The next step was that McConnell questioned Comer about hemp. The article says Comer responded by explaining “the potential markets for hemp fiber and seed, rattling off a flurry of products made with hemp: cosmetics, oil, food products, automotive upholstery, plastics for door panels and dashboards, biofuel and building materials.” Next, “Comer gave McConnell his own version of the hemp-versus-marijuana primer and explained why it would be scientifically impossible for hemp to act as a ‘cover crop’ for illegal marijuana.”
The Politico article includes a helpful “primer” about important differences between industrial hemp and marijuana, pointing out that “For decades, the law enforcement lobby has peddled anti-hemp talking points that just didn’t add up.”
Outlining one key point apparently ignored by hemp’s opponents, the article points out that “Hemp is produced after the male plant fertilizes the females – something that happens almost immediately once the plants flower. Marijuana, on the other hand, is produced from the unfertilized flower of the female plant. A person interested in growing marijuana wants only female plants; a plant that shows signs of male flowers is plucked immediately, before it can mature and pollinate the females around it. . . While a person could hide some female cannabis plants in a hemp field, it would be impossible to prevent those females from being pollenated by the males surrounding them, rendering them worthless as cannabis grown for smoking.”