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Hemp Legalization A Rare Kumbaya Moment For McConnell, Schumer

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., left, leans in to speak to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., before his speech at the McConnell Center's Distinguished Speaker Series Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Louisville, Ky.

Sen. Mitch McConnell and his chief political rival in the U.S. Senate are co-sponsoring legislation to legalize a crop currently barred under U.S. law.

"We really do get along, despite what you read in the press," Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told an audience at the University of Louisville's McConnell Center in February.

That rare moment of bipartisan harmony amid increasingly bitter political fights over taxes, health care, and immigration continued late last week with the New York Democrat's endorsement of McConnell's much-touted hemp legalization legislation.

Friday, Schumer announced he’s signing onto the bill championed by Kentucky’s senior senator, saying it “makes no sense that the DEA is the primary regulator, and that they stop farmers and investors from growing hemp.” The top Democrat joins 10 other senators who have added their names to the legislation. But it’s McConnell who has more invested in clearing the way for the crop, with its potential as an economic driver in Kentucky.

"We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become, sometime in the future, what burley tobacco was in Kentucky's past," the majority leader said in March.

Once a signature crop for the commonwealth, burley tobacco has been on the decline for more than a decade with a new low expected this year, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

McConnell's measure carves hemp out of the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, clearing the way for farmers to grow a crop that’s already sold and bought legally in the U.S.

The high-profile consensus on hemp has cannabis advocates hopeful of future reforms.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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