Hemp Bill Hits the Rocks in Kentucky House Committee

Feb 27, 2013

Prospects remain uncertain for a bill that would regulate industrial hemp if the crop ever makes a comeback in Kentucky.

The House Agriculture and Small Business Committee heard nearly two hours of testimony but took no vote on the bill Wednesday morning in Frankfort. A motion calling for a vote on the bill was ruled out of order by committee chairman Tom McKee.

McKee is pushing to rewrite the bill to have a university study of hemp, which thrived in Kentucky decades ago but is now illegal. The bill, which would allow hemp to be grown in the state if a federal ban is lifted, had easily passed the Senate.

McKee says he plans to reconvene the committee later Wednesday to review the legislation.

The founder and CEO of a hemp foods company will appear Wednesday morning in Frankfort to speak on behalf of an industrial hemp bill. The measure—which has passed the Kentucky Senate—would set up a regulatory framework should federal laws criminalizing hemp be changed.

The House Agriculture and Small Business Committee will hear from Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva, the fastest growing hemp foods company in the U.S.

Despite Republican support for the hemp bill, there appears to be too much Democratic opposition to the measure for it to pass this legislative session. Both Governor Steve Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo have said they are siding with Kentucky law enforcement groups that say legalizing hemp will make it too difficult to distinguish between the crop and marijuana.

Kentucky LRC

A new Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll shows strong support for the legalization of both industrial hemp and medical marijuana.

Efforts are underway in the current Kentucky General Assembly on both those fronts. The industrial hemp bill has been the subject of much attention recently, with Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, and U.S. Representatives John Yarmuth and Thomas Massie testifying in Frankfort on behalf of the effort.

Gov. Steve Beshear, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, and numerous Kentucky law enforcement groups oppose hemp legalization, however, making the bill a long-shot to pass this session.

According to the new poll, nearly two-thirds of Kentuckians--65 percent--favor legalizing industrial hemp, with 22 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure.

The same poll shows 60 percent of Kentuckians support legalizing medical marijuana for prescription use.

Kentucky's agriculture leaders are supporting a new five year strategic plan to help the industry in the state.

The plan, put together by the Kentucky Agriculture Council, puts emphasis on agriculture education, creating new markets and recruiting new people to farming.

The plan runs through 2018 and has the support of Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

Gov. Steve Beshear also supports the plan, which he says is a extension of the first agriculture strategic plan presented to him five years ago.

Beshear Sides with Law Enforcement Against Hemp

Feb 19, 2013

Citing Kentucky's struggles with drug abuse, Gov. Steve Beshear called Tuesday for lawmakers to be cautious about a push to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky.

"I want them to resolve any law enforcement concerns before moving ahead," Beshear told reporters on Tuesday.

Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement agencies have said hemp fields would be ideal places for marijuana growers to hide their illegal crops, given that the leaves of the plants are identical.

Kentucky Republican leaders have been pushing legislation to license and regulate hemp so that it could be grown if the federal government were to lift a longstanding ban.

A measure legalizing industrial hemp in Kentucky sailed through the state Senate last week, but a more skeptical audience awaits the bill in the House. 

Industrial hemp once thrived in Kentucky, but the crop has been banned for decades since the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.  Hemp supporters say it re-emergence can help farmers and create jobs turning its seeds and fibers into products. 

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, however, says supporters still have not made a convincing case.

Farmers in south-central Kentucky are discussing a partnership with a state park that would lead to more farm-fresh foods being served at the location.

The Glasgow Daily Times reports farmers around Barren River Lake State Resort Park met recently with chef Rick Lenoir to discuss a partnership in which he would purchase more local goods to serve at the park's Driftwood Restaurant.

Lenoir, who started working at Barren River Lake State Resort Park last summer, said his preference is to use locally produced food.

"I want folks to be more aware of what we have around here," Lenoir said.

Legislation to allow hemp farming is moving on both the state and federal levels.  The Kentucky Senate has given its approval, and now a bill in Washington seeks to lift a federal ban on the crop. 

Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky have joined Oregon Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden in co-sponsoring a bill that would allow farmers to cultivate and profit from industrial hemp.  Specifically, the bill would remove hemp from the Schedule One controlled substance list, and would define it as a non-drug. 

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.

The Kentucky Senate just passed a much-talked about industrial hemp bill 31-6. The measure would create an infrastructure in the state for growing and marketing hemp and hemp-made products should federal laws regarding the crop change.

The bill faces an uncertain future in the Kentucky House.