Updated: Joining his fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell now supports industrial hemp. 


In a statement released Thursday, McConnell said Paul and Comer—both Republicans, like McConnell—have convinced him that growing hemp for paper, oil and other purposes would be an economic boon for Kentucky farmers.


Comer has long pushed for legislation on the state and federal level that would legalize industrial hemp. Law enforcement officials generally oppose such measures, though, saying hemp and marijuana are too similar, and farmers could easily grow an illegal drug.


But Comer points out that the two plants can be distinguished by a trained eye, and growing them in proximity would lead to cross-pollination and ruined crops.


Here is McConnell’s full statement:


“After long discussions with Senator Rand Paul and Commissioner James Comer on the economic benefits of industrialized hemp, I am convinced that allowing its production will be a positive development for Kentucky’s farm families and economy. Commissioner Comer has assured me that his office is committed to pursuing industrialized hemp production in a way that does not compromise Kentucky law enforcement’s marijuana eradication efforts or in any way promote illegal drug use. The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real and if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times that sounds like a good thing to me.”

Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat, also supports industrial hemp. Of Kentucky’s federal delegation, only Reps. Ed Whitfield, Hal Rogers and Brett Guthrie—all Republicans—have not endorsed industrial hemp. 

Update: In response to McConnell’s decision, Tea Party activist David Adams released the following statement:

“I’m glad to see Senator McConnell moving to the right with his statement on hemp, though he continues to cling to the big government view that if we just spend a few billion dollars more on ‘drug eradication’ that people will suddenly stop taking drugs.”

Also, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce on Thursday voted to  back the hemp bill, joining the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.