Frustration with Washington is pervasive.
There is dissatisfaction because of revelations of what our government has been up to behind our backs. Just think of the Internal Revenue Service and the National Security Agency.
There is also dismay that the federal government is locked in to the same old way of doing things — that, even when confronted with a sensible and reasonable alternative, some things just can't be changed.
I've tried to challenge that idea and stand up when things aren't right, even if I knew the odds of success might be long.
That's why I joined in the fight to reintroduce industrial hemp in Kentucky. I believed Washington was standing in the way of Kentucky's ability to create jobs and opportunities in an industry that we had led before, and have great potential to lead in the future.
Well, as frustrating as other parts of the political debate can be, we have broken through on the issue of industrial hemp.
That's a thrill to me and many of the proponents of industrial hemp who have been involved for years in this fight. Their hard work and perseverance got the ball rolling.
Great leadership at the state level, from Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and others, allowed Kentucky to pass legislation that set up a regulatory framework for growing hemp. Bipartisan support from our congressional delegation presented a united front.
And Sen. Mitch McConnell has helped to deliver the latest victory — a provision in the farm bill that allows for industrial hemp pilot programs. Because of the provision, Comer plans to license hemp farmers in a pilot program this year.
Prior to World War II, Kentucky provided 94 percent of the nation's industrial hemp. Unfortunately, after the war, the federal government decided to group industrial hemp as a controlled substance with marijuana — despite the fact that industrial hemp has virtually none of the toxicity found in marijuana.
Today, the United States is the only industrialized nation that restricts the production of industrial hemp. Despite the ban, millions of dollars in hemp products are sold in this country each year. One estimate says the national market for hemp products is more than $400 million. This means U.S. manufacturers must import millions of dollars in industrial hemp from foreign countries.
And it means that here in Kentucky — where we have an ideal climate for growing industrial hemp and a long history as a successful producer — our agricultural industry hasn't been able to take advantage of the jobs and opportunities that could be realized by the growth of hemp.
Industrial hemp is a versatile fiber and seed oil crop that can be used to manufacture automotive parts, textiles, cosmetics and countless other products.
With Kentucky's robust auto industry — we're home to Ford, Toyota and GM plants and more than 440 motor vehicle-related manufacturing and supplier facilities — think of the opportunity we have in this sector alone.
And I am particularly interested in industrial hemp's potential in Eastern Kentucky, where it could be grown on land reclaimed from mining.
In the process of debating this issue, we've cut through the clutter and dispelled a lot of myths about industrial hemp. Winning those arguments was worth the fight, even if it seemed pretty futile at the start. That's a good lesson to share and remember.
Together, we've challenged the status quo. I hope you will keep fighting with me and very soon we can realize the goal of producing industrial hemp, creating jobs and leading the nation in this industry again.