What is hemp? Mitch McConnell bill would legalize marijuana’s ‘kissing cousin’

Combined ShapeCaption
What You Need To Know: Marijuana

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday announced plans to introduce a bill legalizing hemp as an "agricultural commodity."

» RELATED: McConnell looks to complete hemp's comeback as crop

The Hemp Farming Act would remove the plant from the federal list of controlled substances and permit the public to grow and sell it as an agricultural product.

Hemp, sometimes called marijuana's "kissing cousin," is also in the cannabis sativa family, one of the three main subtypes of the cannabis plant. But unlike marijuana, hemp is a non-intoxicating crop that contains less than 1 percent of the psychoactive substance THC, which gives marijuana users a high. Marijuana, on the other hand, can contain up to 30 percent THC.

» RELATED: 'No such thing as medical marijuana,' Health Secretary says

Hemp also contains more Cannabidiol or CBD, a non-intoxicating compound with medical uses, compared to marijuana.

Physically, hemp leaves are skinnier than marijuana leaves and much easier to grow outdoors in diverse climates. And its uses as a renewable source for raw materials are plenty.

Hemp seeds and flowers are often used for health foods and organic body care and its fibers and stalks are incorporated in the production of construction materials, paper, plastic composites, biofuel and more, according to Leafly.

Explore» RELATED: State Rep. hosts first cannabis, hemp symposium

While visiting his home state of Kentucky on Monday, McConnell said he learned how farmers used hemp to create consumer products like home insulation.

"Imagine, instead of pink fiberglass, we could use Kentucky grown, environmentally sustainable hemp to insulate our houses,” he said. “This represents just one of many uses that Kentuckians are finding for this versatile crop."

According to the Washington Post, hemp has been grown "on an experimental basis" in a few states in recent years, including Kentucky, where agriculture officials have approved more than 12,000 acres to be grown this year.

Explore» RELATED: A daily dose of cannabis could reverse effects of old age, study finds

Without a federal permit, growing hemp has long been considered illegal due to its label as a controlled substance. In 2014, however, McConnell helped enact the 2014 federal Farm Bill to allow some state agriculture departments to research the crop.

Since then, 34 states have authorized hemp research, while actual production occurred in 19 states last year, said Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp. Hemp production totaled about 25,500 acres in 2017, more than double the 2016 output, he said.

“The goal of this new bill, should it become law, is to simply remove the roadblocks altogether,” McConnell said. “It would encourage innovation and development and support to domestic production of hemp.”

But narcotics detectives have voiced concerns about the legalization of hemp.

"Our problem is the hemp plant is identical in appearance to a marijuana plant," Tommy Loving, head of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers' Association, told the Courier Journal. "The only true way to make a distinction between the two plants is through laboratory testing."

To address the concern in Kentucky, participants growing hemp are required to register their GPS coordinates and allow inspections by law enforcement.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.