Agriculture

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.

Kentucky LRC

After testimony from a bevy of high-level supporters, the state Senate agriculture committee unanimously approved Monday a bill that would establish oversight for Kentucky  industrial hemp farmer if hemp were made legal federally.

Agriculture Commission James Comer—the leading proponent of industrial hemp in Kentucky—recruited U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie and John Yarmuth to speak in favor of the bill at the committee, as well as U.S. Sen.  Rand Paul. But the bill has opposition from many law enforcement agencies, including the Kentucky State Police and Operation UNITE, a federally-funded program.

The crop could create jobs in Kentucky in agriculture and other industries through hemp's use as a strong material, said Comer, a Republican. The legislative approved in committee Monday, Senate Bill 50, is Comer's chief legislative priority.

The effort to legalize industrial hemp is gaining steam nationally and in Kentucky. State lawmakers will hold a hearing today in Frankfort about the issue, and some heavy-hitters are lined up to back the effort.

Appearing at Monday's hearing will be U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Representatives John Yarmuth and Thomas Massie, and former CIA Director James Woolsey. Also appearing will be Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who has made the legalization of industrial hemp his number one legislative priority.

Law enforcement groups remain opposed to legalizing hemp because they say it will be impossible to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. Supporters say it's not difficult to tell the difference between the two plants.

Kentucky Public Radio Frankfort Bureau Chief Kenny Colston is covering today's hearing on hemp and we'll have updates online, at our Facebook page, and during our state and regional newscasts later today on All Things Considered.

A leading Kentucky supporter of legalizing industrial hemp admits the effort doesn't have the support of Gov. Beshear--at least not yet.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer will join several members of Kentucky's Congressional delegation Monday at a legislative hearing in Frankfort about a hemp bill filed in the state Senate. That measure would create a regulatory infrastructure for growing and marketing hemp if federal laws regarding the crop are eventually changed.

Comer was asked by WKU Public Radio if he has talked to Gov. Beshear about whether or not he would sign such legislation into law.

"He says he's studying it," Comer said, followed by a laugh. "Governor Beshear is a good man, and we're still working with him. I'm confident if we can get the bill passed in the House and Senate that he'll be supportive of it. I think he realizes it's a popular issue."

The chances for some form of comprehensive  immigration reform in the U.S. appear to be growing, with President Obama and a growing number of Congressional leaders saying they're willing to take on the emotional issue.

Any change to how immigrants receive citizenship or permanent legal status would have a big impact on America's farms and livestock operations, which depend heavily on immigrant labor.

WKU Public Radio's Kevin Willis spoke Wednesday with Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer about how immigration reform might impact farmers in the Bluegrass State.

Here are some excerpts from their conversation:

Given your personal experience as a farmer in Monroe County and your job as Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, what do you make of the national discussions concerning new opportunities for immigrants to earn either citizenship or at least some form of permanent legal status?

"I've talked to Sen. McConnell and Sen. Paul about this issue, and we need immigration reform in the agriculture community in Kentucky. Anyone who drives up and down the road and sees farmers who are growing crops like tobacco, or vegetables, or has a dairy operation--they will see immigrant labor."

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