Hemp Supporters Ratchet Up Pressure, Imply McKee Could Face Election Challenge

Feb 28, 2013

Industrial hemp supporters are ratcheting up the pressure to force a vote on a stalled bill that would allow farmers in Kentucky to grow the crop if federal ban is lifted.

A group led by state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer on Thursday urged House Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom McKee to allow a vote on the bill.

The group included Brian Furnish, a prominent northern Kentucky tobacco farmer who lives in McKee's district.

Furnish, a Republican, warned that the Cynthiana Democrat will face a strong challenge in the next election if McKee stifles the hemp bill. Furnish is no stranger to Frankfort as a member of the state's hemp commission who was also once an agriculture adviser to former Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Furnish declined to say if he would personally challenge McKee.

The industrial hemp measure has led to some hard feelings among lawmakers in Frankfort, including a tense exchange Wednesday between Rep. McKee and Warren County Republican Rep. Jim DeCesare.

McKee wanted to amend the bill to turn it into a study, which the bill's supporters oppose.

In McKee's substitute legislation, the University of Kentucky would apply for a waiver to grow hemp and test its viability in Kentucky for one year, before reporting its findings to lawmakers. 

The Republican-controlled state Senate passed the hemp bill 31-6 earlier in February.

UK is already doing a study on hemp's economic viability, but the research doesn't include planting the crop.

After 80 minutes of testimony and debate on hemp, the committee meeting ended tensely when the time came for a vote.

McKee called for a vote on the substitute bill calling for a study. But Rep. Jim DeCesare, a Republican from Rockfield, at the same time called for a vote on the original hemp bill.

The lawmakers argued—and McKee ruled out of order DeCeasare's motion on the original bill and abruptly ended the meeting without any votes cast on hemp.

McKee told committee members that they may vote on his committee substitute later, but he did not seem inclined to vote on the hemp bill as is.

A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll showed 65 percent of Kentuckians support legalizing industrial hemp.