Kentucky’s elected leaders are again asking the federal government whether or not the commonwealth can legally grow industrial hemp. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and some members of Kentucky's congressional delegation have sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The letter asks the DEA to clarify its position on industrial hemp. A Justice Department memo issued in August provides guidance concerning marijuana enforcement in states that have legalized marijuana. Commissioner Comer believes industrial hemp should be treated the same way.
"Recognizing the intent of the Aug. 29 memo, it would defy common sense to allow states to move forward with marijuana activity, but ignore states that have passed laws allowing for the production of industrial hemp," writes Comer.
The letter is also signed by U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Congressmen Thomas Massie and John Yarmuth. The letter puts the government on notice that Kentucky will move forward with hemp production unless the state hears otherwise.
The Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 50 in the 2013 session that sets up a regulatory framework for hemp production.
Kentucky's tobacco industry has undergone major changes in the past few decades from the way it's grown and harvested, to the way it's sold and marketed. WKU folklore professor Dr. Ann Ferrell spent the past eight years researching what the changes have meant to tobacco families and what the future holds in her new book "Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century".
Kentucky tobacco farmers stand to lose an estimated $12 million because of federal budget cuts related to the sequester. Those cuts are scheduled to hit the next round of price support payments sent to about 100,000 Kentucky tobacco farmers and quota holders.
Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney told WKU Public Radio the payments should be exempt from the federal spending cuts.
"This shouldn't even be considered for sequestration because it's actually a contract that was signed between the tobacco producers and the tobacco manufacturers. Really, the federal government was just holding the money and making the program work."
Haney says members of Kentucky's congressional delegation and farm lobby are teaming up with their counterparts in other states as the next tobacco quota payment nears.
If a Barren County organization has its way, an unoccupied building on Glasgow's downtown square will be turned into a year-round farmers' market.
Sustainable Glasgow has applied for a matching grant from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund to pay for half of the cost of renovating the building.
"It could be our permanent home, it would be on the square, we could have an indoor food court, and we could market more local farm products and farm-to-table prepared foods," Sustainable Glasgow President Jerry Ralston told WKU Public Radio.
The group's plans for the facility would also include a full commercial kitchen and cold storage for produce that could be sold by vendors in the building and wholesaled to local restaurants, schools, and hospitals.
Ralston says he hopes to hear within the next few months whether Sustainable Glasgow's grant application has been approved.
Hemp supporters will rally in Washington D.C. Monday.
Members of Vote Hemp and other groups are descending on the nation’s capital for Hemp Lobby Day to convince Congress to lift a federal ban on the plant for industrial use.
Earlier this year Kentucky lawmakers approved the research and cultivation of hemp, but it has yet to be implemented because the federal government still considers the crop a controlled substance.
The dilemma has pitted two potential gubernatorial candidates against one another: Hemp supporter and state Agricultural Commissioner James Comer, and Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway issued an opinion in September stating that under the federal ban, hemp remains illegal in the state.
“Sometimes it’s my job to say what the law is, not what I want the law to be," said the Attorney General. "I support industrial hemp, I think we can make it work. If it can create jobs, great. Now, is it the panacea for all of Kentucky’s agricultural woes? I don’t know.”