Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Monday that an industrial hemp bill will get a hearing this week in the House Agriculture Committee.
Comer is a major supporter of industrial hemp, and has enlisted the backing of a bipartisan group of federal and state lawmakers. Comer met Monday with Rep. Tom McKee, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and secured from McKee a promise that Senate Bill 50 will get a committee vote Wednesday.
McKee effectively blocked the bill from progressing last week after he tried to get language added to the measure that would have mandated a study of hemp by University of Kentucky researchers. The move by McKee led to some hard feelings between him and hemp backers, but Comer says his meeting with McKee was a productive one, and that things appear to be smoothed over.
Speaking to WKU Public Radio Monday, Comer said he liked the bill's chances to pass the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday. And he says he's not worried about the face that House Speaker Greg Stumbo opposes the measure.
Industrial hemp supporters are ratcheting up the pressure to force a vote on a stalled bill that would allow farmers in Kentucky to grow the crop if federal ban is lifted.
A group led by state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer on Thursday urged House Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom McKee to allow a vote on the bill.
The group included Brian Furnish, a prominent northern Kentucky tobacco farmer who lives in McKee's district.
Furnish, a Republican, warned that the Cynthiana Democrat will face a strong challenge in the next election if McKee stifles the hemp bill. Furnish is no stranger to Frankfort as a member of the state's hemp commission who was also once an agriculture adviser to former Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
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.
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.
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.