Mitch McConnell will introduce legislation to allow states to regulate their own hemp industries, a move that could be a boon to the Republican senator should the Senate majority leader pursue reelection in 2020.
The Kentucky senator announced on Monday he will pursue a bill that would make states the primary regulators of hemp, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture. Hemp growth was once outlawed in the United States, but McConnell worked in 2014 to write a new law allowing pilot programs for it. Since then, Kentucky has become the state with the third-most acres of hemp growth.
“Hemp has played a foundational role in Kentucky’s agricultural heritage, and I believe that it can be an important part of our future,” McConnell said on Monday at an event at the state Department of Agriculture in Frankfort, Ky. "I believe that we are ready to take the next step and build upon the successes we’ve seen with Kentucky’s hemp pilot program.”
Hemp is an agricultural product with a myriad number of uses, from fabric to paper. But federal law does not allow its cultivation other than for research because of its similarity to marijuana, though hemp cannot be used as a drug.
McConnell's move to relax regulations on hemp production comes as his colleagues increasingly believe the Kentucky Republican will seek a seventh term in 2020, when he is next up for reelection. In interviews last week, several GOP senators said privately that they believe McConnell is far more likely than not to run again.
The majority leader is set to introduce the bill with Democratic senators and junior Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in the coming days. Congress must pass a farm bill by the end of September when current law expires, and McConnell's hemp proposal could be included. As majority leader, McConnell is in prime position to enact his priorities, and he also still serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
A spokesman said McConnell will be looking at "all available options" to get the bill signed into law.