The state Senate has passed a bill aimed at creating a hemp industry in Kentucky, though the bill still appears to lack the support of key government leaders.
The Senate's 31-6 vote sends to the House a measure establishing oversight for Kentucky industrial hemp farmers if the crop is legalized at the federal level. The Senate vote comes on the heels of a poll stating that most Kentuckians believe legalized hemp would create jobs.
High-profile opponents remain unmoved.
And the hemp bill's fate in the state House isn't so clear.
The poll, conducted by RunSwitch Public Relations and Harper Polling, stated that 65 percent of Kentuckians believe that hemp would create jobs—and that only 16 percent believed that law enforcement concerns about hemp should take priority.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a Republican, is championing the hemp bill, saying the plant can be used in a variety of products and would lead to job growth. Kentucky law enforcement—including Kentucky State Police—worry that marijuana plants could be sneaked into hemp fields, complicating eradication efforts and overwhelming state labs that test the plants.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie spoke in support of the hemp bill to the state Senate agriculture committee. Massie is sponsoring federal hemp legislation in the U.S. House, while Paul and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell are sponsors of the legislation in the U.S. Senate.
But Gov. Steve Beshear isn't among the supporters.
"We may be yelling about things very loudly—that don't really mean too much right now," Beshear said, when asked about the poll.
Beshear said law enforcement concerns also give him pause on the hemp issue. He said the hemp industry seems to be marginal in other places where it is legal and was undeterred by the new poll numbers.
And House Speaker Greg Stumbo, like the governor a Democrat, is also siding with law enforcement on the matter.
Recent studies, Stumbo said, show that hemp production would be minimal across the U.S.
"It's hardly what people are saying it is," Stumbo said of hemp's economic potential.
Still, that didn't stop a bipartisan block from voting out of the state Senate. After it passed, Comer released a statement praising the vote.
“I am extremely proud of the Kentucky state Senate for its commitment to job creation in Kentucky,” Comer said. “Today’s bipartisan vote is the first step toward more opportunities for our farmers and jobs for Kentuckians.”
And Bill sponsor Paul Hornback says hemp supporters should be given a chance to prove the industry's worth.
"Well what I'm here to ask you today is to give up the opportunity. Put us in the position as Kentucky, to give us the opportunity to see how this works. I don't think anyone knows what the economic impact of this is going to be in Kentucky."