UPDATE: The House just made Massie's amendment a moot point by rejecting the farm bill in a 234-195 bipartisan vote.
Earlier: Colleges and universities would be allowed to grow hemp for academic research under an amendment to the farm bill approved by a bipartisan vote in the House on Thursday.
The proposal was introduced by Kentucky Republican Congressman Thomas Massie along with Democrats Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado, and passed by a 225-to-200 vote. It applies only to states that have authorized the crops cultivation.
A majority of Kentucky’s congressional representatives have been vocal supporters for easing federal restrictions on hemp, which is illegal to grow in the U.S. due to its genetic relation to marijuana. Opponents against the language argued the amendment will hamper law enforcement efforts because the crop is difficult to distinguish between its cannabis cousin.
But Massie says hemp is not marijuana, adding the amendment will help move the research forward to one day allow farmers to grow the crop legally.
"People think it’s about drugs but when they get done laughing about the word hemp and realize industrial hemp is not marijuana they realize it’s a jobs bill and an opportunity for Kentucky farmers," he says. "What this amendment does is it carves out a very small exception for universities to do research without running afoul of the drug laws. And I hope it’s a precursor to allowing all of the farmers in Kentucky to grow industrial hemp."
The effort to legalize industrial hemp was a hot topic in the General Assembly this year with proponents arguing the crop would bring economic benefits to the commonwealth. Supporters included Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who back federal legalization efforts.
Internationally, hemp has numerous industrial uses such as clothing, concrete and plastics in certain automotive parts. State lawmakers passed a bill to allow farmers to grow hemp if federal restrictions are lifted.
"Because of our work being one of the first states on board we've got the attention of the processors. Hopefully we're one step closer to creating some jobs and new opportunities with industrial hemp," says Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who spearheaded the state legislative push. "We've come a long way in a short period of time, and this amendment passed when six months ago people laughed about it."
Earlier this month, Governor Steve Beshear asked President Obama to help the state work around the possibility of a new agricultural crop without effecting drug enforcement efforts.
The governor didn't sign the state bill and had sided with law enforcement about their concerns with distinguishing hemp from marijuana. However, Beshear did not veto the bill allowing a licensing framework either.
Massie told WFPL he is confident the amendment will remain in the farm bill after the House-Senate conference.
"Because Senator McConnell supports industrial hemp, I'm very hopeful it will survive the conference even though the Senate version doesn't have this amendment in it," he says.