WASHINGTON - The Senate Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to block efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down on hemp, following the DEA's recent action against the state of Kentucky.
An amendment co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who both represent states with farmers interested growing hemp crops, cruised through the powerful spending committee on a 22-8 vote.
Congress legalized hemp for research purposes earlier this term, but the DEA argued that the law had not made it legal to import seeds, and subsequently seized a delivery bound for Kentucky's Department of Agriculture, leading to a drawn-out public battle.
"This measure will help prevent our legal hemp seeds secured by state Departments of Agriculture and used for legal pilot programs from being blocked by DEA or other federal agencies in the future," McConnell said. "These legal pilot programs authorized by my legislation could help boost our state’s economy and lead to future jobs."
The House previously passed similar legislation, indicating that opposition to the DEA move is bicameral as well as bipartisan.
Hemp is a non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana, though the DEA considers both to be the same drug.
A Justice Department spokesperson wasn't immediately available to comment.