Kentucky House Committee Passes Hemp Bill, but Floor Vote Uncertain

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and several Kentucky Congressmen have endorsed a hemp bill being heard in Frankfort.

In its second try, the Kentucky House agriculture committee approved a bill Wednesday creating a regulatory framework for growing hemp in Kentucky, if the federal government were to legalize the crop.

The hemp bill—championed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—got only one "no" vote in the House agriculture committee.

Last week, an ag committee meeting abruptly ended after a tense exchange among lawmakers on the hemp issue.

Several House lawmakers said they voted for the bill to support farmers and hopefully create more jobs in the Bluegrass State.

Rep.  Tom McKee, a Cynthiana Democrat and the committee chairman,  says his yes vote was for economic reasons.

"This is a jobs bill as you heard testimony last week, it's the only jobs bill in this session. So I'm voting for jobs," he says.

The bill could still stall on the House floor. Speaker Greg Stumbo has expressed concerns about hemp because Kentucky law enforcement—particularly Kentucky State Police—fear that hemp could complicate efforts to find the plant's illicit cousin, marijuana.

Stumbo, a former Kentucky attorney general, has not committed to the bill getting a vote by the full house.

Comer  said he'll use public pressure to force a vote if House leadership holds up the bill to try and kill it as session winds down in the coming weeks.

"We'll just ask the people of Kentucky to contact their legislators and contact House leadership and ask this bill be voted on," Comer said.

Comer also said if the bill does pass the House, he doesn't believe Gov.  Steve Beshear would veto the measure. Beshear has expressed concerns about hemp.