Editorials

Kudos to McConnell for legalizing industrial hemp

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You have to give Sen. Mitch McConnell credit: When he is committed to something, he knows how to get it done.

The Senate majority leader on Tuesday signed a compromise Farm Bill which passed the Senate with a provision that decriminalizes hemp, classifying it as an agricultural crop rather than a drug related to marijuana. Hemp has little of the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

McConnell’s hands-on shepherding of the Hemp Farming Act, along with Rep. James Comer’s sponsorship in the House, clears the way for what could be a big boost to Kentucky’s economy. The bill also gives states, not the federal government, regulatory control of the industry.

State agriculture officials, University of Kentucky researchers and local entrepreneurs helped in a successful pilot program that McConnell put in the 2014 Farm Bill, over the objection of law-enforcement groups.

Kentucky hemp recorded more than $16 million in product sales through the state pilot program. In 2017, more than 3,200 acres of hemp were being grown across Kentucky.

The $867-billion Farm Bill — which provides a broad range of support for agriculture and those in need of food aid — passed the House Wednesday and is expected to be signed by the president soon.

It was also encouraging to hear Tuesday that McConnell has agreed to allow a floor vote on bipartisan criminal justice reform before the end of the year.

McConnell had been lobbied by a broad coalition of supporters — from evangelicals, big GOP donors, the ACLU and President Donald Trump. He had earlier said that there was not time to vote on it.

The First Step Act reduces some mandatory sentences and the “three strikes penalty.” It pumps $375 million into job training and rehab programs and gives inmates the chance to earn 10 days in halfway houses or in-home supervision for every 30 days spent in rehab and job training.

This legislation follows efforts by Kentucky and many other states to make sentencing fairer and imprisonment more constructive. Speaker Paul Ryan has promised the Senate bill would easily pass the House. That would be an uplifting end to a Congress that has not agreed on much.

The re-legalization of hemp has been an editorial board priority for more than a decade. The plant, used in Kentucky as far back as pioneer days to make various products such as fiber and building materials, could aid farmers suffering from the diminished tobacco crop.

Today the seeds of the plant, used to make CBD oil, a popular over-the-counter health supplement, have multiplied the potential. Hemp products sold in the U.S. in 2017 had an estimated value of at least $820 million.

The crop is no panacea, but it does offer rural or Appalachian Kentucky opportunities for farming, niche businesses or processing operations.

McConnell’s diligence on hemp is an example of using his clout to look out for Kentucky. Well done.

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