THE BLOG
05/10/2013 03:15 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2013

Mr. President: Legalize Hemp!

legalize hempThis week, I have the honor and pleasure of joining Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer as we meet in Washington, D.C. with an impressive swath of Obama Administration officials -- from the White House to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy to the Environmental Protection Agency -- to seek their help in securing the federal legalization of industrial hemp.

Think the pairing of this proud progressive and the conservative Comer to be somewhat unusual?  Let me further blow your political assumptions:  We will be joined in our advocacy by the unlikely alliance of GOP Establishment favorite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Tea Party poster child Senator Rand Paul, and liberal Democratic stalwart Congressman John Yarmuth.

This rare burst of No Labels-style Washington bi-partisanship is merely a reflection of the broad, deep and diverse support for hemp's legalization among Kentuckians of all political persuasions.  This March, the Kentucky General Assembly overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 50 -- sponsored by GOP Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Paul Hornback, and strongly championed by Democratic House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins -- that establishes an administrative and law enforcement structure for hemp growers should the crop be legalized at the federal level, and would empower Kentucky to jump to the front of the line and establish itself as the national leader on the crop once federal approval was granted.

How have liberals, conservatives and everyone in between found such common ground? It's because the case for hemp legalization is so compelling:
  • While support for legalizing hemp's distant cousin, marijuana, remains controversial (I support legal pot; Comer does not), hemp is not marijuana.  The two plants are quite distinct in the way that they appear physically and are cultivated agriculturally.  Moreover, smoking hemp can't get you high; it just might make you feel a little stupid that you tried.  Industrial hemp has less than one percent THC, while marijuana ranges from three to 15 percent THC content.
  • Legalized industrial hemp production could emerge as a prolific cash crop that could bring hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue to Kentucky, and many billions of dollars to the United States. There are more than 25,000 uses for the crop, including rope, clothing, automotive paneling and door installation -- even makeup.
  • Most exciting to me -- as a clean energy advocate -- is hemp's application as a clean-burning alternative fuel. By storing carbon during its growth, hemp can play an invaluable role in developing a more sustainable future, including in the building of 21st century, zero-carbon homes. While bio-fuels critics have raised alarms at the diversion of food products into fuel production -- causing spikes in food prices -- hemp has no such negative economic side effects. As the U.S. struggles with the dual enormous challenges of climate change and dependence on foreign oil, industrial hemp could become a powerful weapon in America's energy independence arsenal.
Only one thing stands in the way of this exciting economic and environmental progress: The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) continues to classify hemp as an illegal, controlled substance, regardless of its THC potency.

Accordingly, Comer and I -- and our bipartisan federal delegation -- will be lobbying Obama Administration officials this week to provide Kentucky a waiver from the federal regulations; or better yet, to encourage the DEA to reclassify industrial hemp as legal, regulated agricultural crop.

But while our lobbying efforts will hopefully produce some progress, the key power is in your hands.  While a majority of Americans now support legalized marijuana -- and presumably a much larger majority supports legal hemp -- only when you share your support with your elected officials will they feel the political pressure to take action.

Here are three very simple things that you can do -- right now, at your computer -- to register your support for legalized industrial hemp and pressure Washington to fulfill the people's will:
  1. Contact your Senators to urge them to co-sponsor and support S. 359, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013. introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that would exclude hemp from the definition of marijuana and allow states to legalize and regulate the product.
  2. Contact your Congressman and urge him or her to co-sponsor the companion bill in the House, H.R. 525, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013, introduced by Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY).
  3. Click here to sign a petition to President Obama, urging his Administration to lift the barriers to legalized hemp.
I know, I know. It is hard not to be cynical about the way Washington works. But the truth is that the power is in your hands. Take this rare burst of bi-partisanship and lend your voice for a stronger economy and a cleaner planet through hemp legalization.

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