It’s tough to underestimate the impact of yesterday’s announcement by Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell that he will be introducing legislation in April to permanently legalize hemp. Indeed, this may very well serve as an inflection point for the industry.
Certainly, Leader McConnell has been a stalwart, behind-the-scenes supporter of the crop for more than four years: His leadership is largely responsible for most of our key federal legislative triumphs, most prominently the 2014 Farm Bill authorization that launched the rebirth of an industry.
But yesterday’s roundtable with hemp farmers, and succeeding press conference, was the first occasion where McConnell has delivered a full-throated, passionate embrace of the need for permanent recognition of hemp as an agricultural commodity, not a controlled substance. McConnell rightly declared the 2014 Farm Bill experiment a victory – hemp farmers and firms proved the crop’s value – laying the groundwork for passage of full and permanent legislation.
Note also the individual. Certainly, as the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell is one of the two or three most powerful politicians in America. But he also serves as the very symbol of the kind of Congressman whose support is needed to push hemp legalization over the top: a traditional conservative, with close ties to law enforcement, whose value system shuns the use of marijuana, or even medical marijuana. You may disagree with his position; but it is shared by hundreds of leading politicians who represent the “swing bloc” when it comes to passage of hemp legalization. In order for a hemp bill to pass, we must win the support of many anti-marijuana legislators who understand the difference between the two plants, and understand the extraordinary economic opportunity hemp poses to American farmers. By endorsing hemp legalization so passionately and so publicly, Leader McConnell encourages some Congressmen to take a new look at the issue; he gives other Congressmen cover to do what they already thought was the right thing.
We still have a ways to go – Washington remains polarized and paralyzed. But Mitch McConnell’s announcement yesterday signals that our ultimate victory is right around the corner, and that with the Leader’s leadership, it may be even sooner than we had expected.
Jonathan Miller Roundtable General Counsel
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