Congress introduces bill to legalize hemp
By Jason McMillen of the Daily Courier
Local hemp growers and retailers praised the news Thursday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has followed through on a promise to try to legalize marijuana's tame kissing cousin.
"What a great day," said Kit Doyle, owner of Murphy Hemp Company in Murphy. "This will mark an American Renaissance for sure."
"We're living in an interesting time," said Peter Gendron, president of the Oregon SunGrowers Guild. "People like Mitch McConnell declared war on me three decades ago, and now they've finally decided to lay down their weapons and adopt the side of truth."
Teaming up again with liberal Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, the conservative Kentucky Republican on Thursday made good on a promise to submit a bipartisan bill in Congress to legalize industrial hemp.
The legislation would remove hemp, a closely related relative of marijuana, from the list of controlled substances and open the door for farmers nationwide to sell and grow it as an agricultural product.
The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 is a follow-up to legislation in 2014, backed by the same three senators, that cleared the way for states to allow industrial hemp and test consumer markets.
"It's time the federal gov changes the way it looks at #hemp, which is why Senator @RonWyden and I, along with @SenJeffMerkley, are introducing legislation that will modernize federal law in this area & empower American farmers to explore this promising new market," McConnell wrote on Twitter, announcing the bill's introduction.
In his own statement on Twitter, Wyden vowed to see the legislation through.
"I'm not going to stop working to end the outdated, misunderstood federal ban on growing industrial hemp," he wrote. "I'm calling on Congress to join us."
Hemp is marijuana's non-psychoactive cousin and has a wide array of applications including, but not limited to, building materials, paper products, plastics and clothing.
It also contains CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that's showing great promise in the scientific community, particularly in the field of medicine.
Josephine County is prime growing territory for hemp as well as marijuana and is widely touted to produce some of the best in the world. Harnessed correctly, growers say, it could spell big bucks for the local economy.
McConnell supports legalized hemp because it could help fill the economic void left by the decline of the tobacco industry in his home state of Kentucky, mirroring the decline of the timber industry in Josephine County.
The primary opposition to legalized hemp rests with law enforcement, which maintains that nationwide legalization will make it easier for black market marijuana to make it across state lines because the two varieties are nearly indistinguishable visually.
Without mentioning the opposition from law enforcement, McConnell said in a recent meeting with Kentucky farmers that he thinks the legislation has a shot.
"Hopefully we can pull that off," McConnell told the farmers, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. "Some states have gone farther in the other direction, the kissing cousin is legal in Colorado and Oregon. I'm hoping they'll think this is pretty mild."
Doyle has long touted the various applications for hemp, including medical. In 2017 he even closed down his Nature Scripts medical dispensary in favor of the Murphy Hemp Company.
With the financial floodgates poised to suddenly open up, Doyle hopes that Josephine County won't be slow on the draw and miss its opportunity.
"It can help build lasting family wealth in this community." Doyle said, adding that he believes that hemp will become a trillion dollar market nationwide. "It's going to be good for every aspect of the economy."
The Murphy Hemp Company is sponsoring a free trade show called What the Hemp! at the Josephine County Fairgrounds in an effort to raise awareness about the crop and to introduce people to the equipment they need to farm it. It will be held May 19-20.
Stephan King, owner of a local hemp seed farming operation in both the Illinois Valley and Bend called Pharmers, said that he would immediately expand his business across state lines if the bill passes.
Like Doyle, King also kickstarted his operation soon after the hemp pilot program was initiated by national legislation.
On a final note, King said that nothing would make him happier than to see the much maligned plant legalized, thus reducing or even eliminating the plant's stigma over time if the bill is passed.
"It's going to legitimize our industry and make it more mainstream," King said. "It's really going to take off the chains."