"There are three words why we have hemp now, and those words are tobacco state Republicans," said Kristin Nichols, editor at Denver-based Hemp Industry Daily, a publication owned by MJBizDaily. "There's been strong support from lawmakers and politicians up and down in former tobacco states looking for a replacement crop."
The hemp provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill were in the Senate version of the legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader McConnell. The Kentucky Republican put himself on the joint Senate-House conference committee formed to hammer out the details of the final farm bill.
"I know there are farming communities all over the country who are interested in this," McConnell said in June when discussing the hemp legalization legislation before the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Mine are particularly interested in it, and the reason for that is — as all of you know — our No. 1 cash crop used to be something that's really not good for you: tobacco. And that has declined significantly, as it should, given the public health concerns.
According to Nichols, cannabis generally grows well in areas where tobacco production once thrived, such as Kentucky and North Carolina. In the case of Kentucky, the state received over $2 billion in Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement funds and is using some of money to invest in growing its hemp industry.
Both chambers of Congress passed the farm bill in June but major differences between the bills caused a delay in finalizing an agreement. An agreement in principle on the bill was reached in late November.
Hemp legalization is just one element of the wide-ranging farm bill. The legislation also covers farm subsidies and food stamps as well as trade and rural development policy.
The House's version of the farm bill didn't originally include hemp legalization amendment. But the final version expected to be filed Monday and be voted on as early as Wednesday or Thursday in the House includes McConnell's amendment.
The farm bill is usually renewed every five years and the last one expired Sept. 30. The previous farm bill, from 2014, relaxed hemp laws and allowed farmers in a handful of states, including Kentucky, to grow the crop as part of research projects.
"This will open up a lot of new markets for retailers who have been cautious," said Lex Pelger, science director for Bluebird Botanicals, a Colorado-based company producing hemp derived CBD products. "What we're doing is already legal under the 2014 Farm Bill, but the power of the 2018 Farm Bill is that it clearly clears hemp for general commerce."