American-grown hemp may get another boost from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Last Friday, the Kentucky Republican added a provision to the agriculture appropriations bill to help hemp farmers transport crops across state lines sans federal interference. “Kentucky’s industrial hemp pilot programs continue to prosper,” said McConnell, “and I want to make sure our legal hemp producers can safely transport their crops between states, including to states that maintain processing facilities, so they can fully capitalize on the commercial potential for this commodity.”
Kentucky has been running an industrial hemp pilot program since last year, when the 2014 Farm Bill gave universities and state agricultural commissioners authority to grow hemp for the first time in more than half a century. Cultivating the plant on American soil was banned in 1937—owing to nothing more than hemp being in the same plant family as marijuana—and hemp’s growth is still only permitted by these limited actors.
This is a shame, since hemp has all sorts of interesting potential as a building material, textile, food, cooking oil, cosmetic ingredient, and fuel source. The market for hemp seed and fiber—all imported right now—is already $600 million a year in America. Unlike marijuana, hemp does not have psychoactive properties.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota recently identified a single gene responsible for the differences between the Cannabis cousins. Plant biologist and study author George Weiblen hopes the discovery of may help hemp producers’ in their quest to define the two as legally distinct. As it stands, it’s even hard for researchers to study hemp because of its classification as a Schedule One controlled substance—Weiblen’s lab is one of the few in the country with a federal clearance to study Cannabis of any sort, including hemp.