Hemp, Hemp, Hooray! Hemp Supporters Praise McConnell for His Success in Permitting Interstate Transportation of Hemp Through the 2016 Farm Bill

By: Jacqueline Nelson

On July 16, 2015, by a 28-2 vote, the United States Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Agriculture, Rural, Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill (S.1800) for fiscal year 2016.[i]  This bill, commonly referred to as the Federal Farm Bill, supports agriculture cooperative conservation and rural community programs implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).[ii]  Through these programs, the USDA promotes and financially supports essential nutritional needs for the elderly and for children and their families, as well as food and drug safety.[iii]

Due to the fervent efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the 2016 Farm Bill includes a provision permitting “interstate transportation of legally grown industrial hemp.”[iv]  According to McConnell, “Kentucky’s industrial hemp pilot programs continue to prosper, and I want to make sure our legal hemp producers can safely transport their crops between the states, including to states that maintain processing facilities, so they can fully capitalize on the commercial potential for this commodity.”[v]

 Although McConnell’s efforts to promote the cultivation and transportation of hemp may surprise some, McConnell’s ardent support of the cash crop has grown over the last few years.[vi]  In the 2014 Farm Bill, McConnell was successful in permitting the creation of state pilot programs for researching hemp.[vii]  The 2014 Farm Bill granted permission for state agricultural commissioners and state universities to create pilot programs for cultivating hemp.[viii]  The impact of this bill is far-reaching, especially in states like Kentucky who quickly initiated the program.  If the pilot programs prove to be successful, farmers whose livelihood once depended on Kentucky’s beloved crop, tobacco, may have a new crop to fill the void.[ix]  As of 2015, the following are participants in Kentucky’s pilot program: Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, University of Louisville, University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, and other Kentucky Department of Agriculture approved affiliates.[x]  As of 2015, Kentucky’s pilot program consists of 33.4 acres of farmland with thirty-eight different seed varieties planted.[xi]

Kentucky Farmers remain a priority for McConnell.  “By exploring innovative ways to use industrial hemp to benefit a variety of Kentucky industries, the pilot programs boost our state’s economy and lead to future jobs . . . I look forward to seeing industrial hemp prosper in the Commonwealth.”[xii]  McConnell’s work has been praised immensely by Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, James Comer.  Referencing the 2016 Farm Bill, Comer states, “The latest language reemphasizes that industrial hemp from a farm bill research program is an agricultural commodity.  The ability of Kentucky to research the full potential of industrial hemp through processing, marketing, and sales is vital to understanding the future possibilities for industrial hemp.  Kentucky’s agricultural community continues to be indebted to Senator McConnell for his continued leadership on industrial hemp.”[xiii] 

With the state of hemp research still in flux, many companies like Industrial Hemp Manufacturing, LLC, a subsidiary of Hemp Inc., are preparing to capitalize on the market.[xiv] Hemp, Inc., seeks to be the number one United States processing facility by utilizing a 70,000 square foot operation.[xv]  CEO Bruce Perlowin praises the 2016 Farm Bill.[xvi]  “The approval of this bill lays the groundwork for industrial hemp to be grown, processed and manufactured right here in the U.S.A. and sold here in the U.S.A. without having to import these goods from other countries.”[xvii]  Perlowin declares that his company will be prepared to benefit from the market with their North Carolina plant, once industrial hemp is legalized in that state.[xviii]

The 2016 Farm Bill has been passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee and placed on the Senate legislative calendar, but the bill still needs to pass the Senate, the House, and then signed into law by President Barack Obama.[xix]  For more information about this bill or to track its progress, you can visit https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1800

[i] Jack Brammer, McConnell Inserts Hemp Provision Into Senate Farm Appropriations Bill, Lexington Herald Leader (July 16, 2015), http://www.kentucky.com/2015/07/16/3947532_mcconnell-inserts-hemp-provision.html?rh=1; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, S. 1800, 114th Cong. (2015), https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1800.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] James Higdon, 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, Politico (March 2, 2015), http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/mitch-mcconnell-hemp-115671.

[x] The Kentucky Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Pilot Projects-2014 Summary, KyAgr.com (2014), http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/documents/HEMP_2014.Summary.pdf.

[xi] Id.

[xii] Higdon, supra note ix.

[xiii] Approval of Senate Agricultural Bill Reinforces Hemp, Inc.’s Position as Top Processing Facility in North Carolina, MarketWatch (August 7, 2015), http://www.marketwatch.com/story/approval-of-senate-agricultural-bill-reinforces-hemp-incs-position-as-top-processing-facility-in-north-carolina-2015-08-07.

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Id.

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, S. 1800, 114th Cong. (2015), https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1800.