One wouldn’t expect the top Republican in the Senate to be making a strong push toward legalized hemp, yet that’s exactly what’s happening. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently announced that he’s pushing a bill in Congress to legalize industrial hemp nationwide. The bill, called the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, would remove hemp from the list of controlled substances so it can be legally grown across the country.

“We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky’s past,” McConnell said during a press conference.

According to a press release issued by McConnell’s office, the legislation would “remove the federal barriers in place that have stifled the industry” and “give hemp researchers the chance to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – allowing them to continue their impressive work with the support of federal research dollars.”

So, what does this mean for hemp growers and people who may be interested in growing hemp?

Geoff Whaling, chairman of the National Hemp Association, tells Cannabis Community Info he is delighted that McConnell is pushing this legislation. Whaling believes this bill will help normalize hemp in America, and he says he’s already received renewed interest in hemp since McConnell made his announcement.

Much like the burgeoning cannabis industry, industrial hemp has faced a major problem with access to banking and financial institutions due to its inclusion on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of Schedule I Controlled Substances. Whaling says, “By being removed from the Controlled Substance Act, it will resolve all of the banking challenges that our membership currently endure.”

While some post-prohibition states have legalized the farming of industrial hemp, farmers are reluctant to grow because of resistance from the DEA, which has long dragged its feet when it comes to approving licensure for the cultivation of hemp.

Several fledgling hemp businesses have also reported difficulty in promoting and selling their non-psychoactive products online and on social media, due to some advertising platforms not separating hemp from marijuana that’s consumed as medicine or recreationally.

Indeed, many people are still unsure of what hemp is all about, believing it to be the same as the weed they consume. Though it comes from the cannabis sativa family of plants, hemp is non-psychoactive and won’t get you high, due to only containing trace amounts of THC at most. However, hemp can be used for a litany of useful purposes, including as food, clothing, paper, insulation and biofuel.

Whaling is hopeful that legalizing hemp will help people learn about what it is truly most useful for. Furthermore, he believes many people will appreciate the major economic benefits that come with legalization.

“The potential impact to the economy is estimated to be in the multibillions of dollars,” Whaling explains. “With an estimated 25,000 uses, we already know a multitude of companies who are interested in getting access to [hemp] samples … to begin their own research.”