U.S. Congressman James Comer says his bill to loosen hemp regulations will likely get more attention in the House now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to file a companion bill in the Senate.
Comer filed a bill last summer to reclassify industrial hemp from a controlled substance to an agriculture crop. The plant on the list due to its similarities with marijuana.
"I think my bill will get a lot more attention in the House when he files a bill in the Senate. Because the perception in the House right now is 'why do we pass these bills when those are never going to pass the Senate?' But if Mitch McConnell is filing the same bill that I have, then I think that will expedite my bill significantly," Comer said.
Comer said he doesn't think marijuana will become legalized in Kentucky. He and state ag leaders have made a point to explain the differences between the two plants of the same species. While both are varieties of cannabis, hemp has a substantially lower amount of THC, the active compound that produces a 'high.'
Some restrictions were loosened in the 2014 Farm Bill, allowing states to develop and control pilot programs. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture approved 12,800 acres of hemp cultivation this year. Murray State University was among the first to put hemp in the ground under this program.
State ag officials have heavily promoted Kentucky being a leader in hemp production as the state once was 200 years ago. Comer has spearheaded efforts as state ag commissioner. He jokingly calls himself 'the hemp guy' in Congress.
Comer said the cannabidiol (CBD) in hemp can serve as an alternative to opioids for pain relief. "This is something that really hasn't gotten the press that it deserves on the national level because this can be an alternative solution to pain relief. Not marijuana, but hemp," Comer said.
He said Kentucky is a ‘hemp state’ with several facilities already producing CBD oil and a new plant under construction in Carlisle County. The market is strong for hemp, he said, and presents an opportunity for Kentucky farmers and rural communities.
The medical community wants more government-funded research. Comer said he believes McConnell will address in his legislation government-funded study to prove hemp's capabilities.
Comer was in Paducah on Monday to meet with industry and health leaders in the community. Hemp was brought up in a discussion about addressing the opioid crisis.