In another strange twist of events, I find myself sympathizing with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The Republican Minority Leader tried but failed yesterday to get the fast-tracked Farm Bill to legalize industrial hemp. McConnell has strong support from back home, most notably from Kentucky's new Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, whose efforts have gotten even House Speaker John Boehner to say he backs letting farmers grow hemp.
And why the heck shouldn't we?
Comer risked ridicule by campaigning on an issue that many lampooned and few of his constituents understood. But he stubbornly embarked on a statewide educational campaign with a simple, irrefutable message: hemp is not marijuana.
Indeed, the cousin crops are quite distinguishable, both in their appearance and how they are cultivated agriculturally. Most pertinently, industrial hemp has less than 1 percent the psychoactive THC, compared with the 5 to 20 percent THC content of recreational pot. Moreover, unlike marijuana, hemp could emerge as a prolific cash crop with more than 25,000 uses, including for rope, food, clothing, horse bedding, automotive paneling, and door installation—even clean-burning alternative fuels [Jonathan Miller, "Inside the Movement to Legalize Hemp," The Daily Beast, 2013.05.14].
Comer's successful effort to pass hemp legislation in Kentucky is an excellent example of facts and bipartisan pragmatism beating back knee-jerk ignorance and fear.
Legalizing industrial hemp should be an easy call for all sides. We remove unnecessary regulation. We expand opportunities for farmers. We let American farmers enter a lucrative marketplace already tapped by numerous other countries. And we expand the crops available for rotation to improve soil quality.