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."

Support for industrial hemp is growing in Kentucky behind the efforts of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

With last week's endorsement from U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, Comer now has the majority of the state’s federal delegation behind him.

Both senators and half of the state's congressmen have publicly endorsed legalizing industrial hemp. They say Kentucky is well-suited to be a leader in growing hemp for fiber and oil.

But the push does have its opponents.

Law enforcement agencies reject hemp for a number of reasons; most importantly because it's a cousin to marijuana. And as support increases, law enforcement has remained firm on this point.

McConnell Joins Supporters of Legalizing Industrial Hemp

Jan 31, 2013

The effort to legalize industrial hemp is picking up more support--this time, from the highest-ranking Republican U.S. Senator.

Kentucky's Mitch McConnell issued a statement Thursday announcing he now backs the legalization effort.

"After long discussions with Senator Rand Paul and Commissioner James Comer on the economic benefits of industrialized hemp, I am convinced that allowing its production will be a positive development for Kentucky’s farm families and economy," said McConnell in his statement.

The recent talk in Frankfort about legalizing industrial hemp hasn't convinced the head of the Kentucky Narcotic Officer's Association. Tommy Loving, who also leads the Warren County Drug Task, says he fears marijuana growers will plant their crops next to hemp, making it difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between the two.

Some agriculture experts say planting the two crops together would destroy the potency of the marijuana over time, but Loving told WKU Public Radio that wouldn't deter those looking to hide from law enforcement.

"If you plant marijuana with hemp surrounding it, for instance, in one growing season, you're not going to diminish that much of the THC content in the marijuana. So your marijuana crop is still going to be a sellable commodity,” said Loving.

Speaking after Monday's meeting of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer responded to law enforcement opposition to hemp legalization.

For supporters of legalizing hemp, it's a case of good news and bad news.

The good news? A bill filed in the Kentucky legislature that would allow farmers to grow hemp if federal restrictions are lifted is likely to have a hearing next month in the Senate Agriculture Committee, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader

However, it remains uncertain whether the measure will be allowed to receive a vote. Sen. Paul Hornback, a Georgetown Republican and chairman of the committee, says members of his own party might block the committee from voting on the issue.

The Senate Republican Caucus will meet Feb. 6 in a closed-door meeting to discuss the measure.

How Many Horses Call the Bluegrass State Home? Now We Know

Jan 23, 2013

A survey of Kentucky's equine industry harnessed big numbers to back up the state's bragging rights as the world's horse capital. Kentucky is home to around 242,400 horses, according to new data released Wednesday.

From June to October of last year, researchers with the National Agricultural Statistics Service counted equines across the state, ranging from thoroughbreds at large farms to ponies in people’s backyards.

Dr. Jill Stowe, a professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Kentucky, says the project marks the first comprehensive survey of Kentucky’s horses since 1977.

“The data that we have right now even is useful for our elected officials in policy decisions. It’s useful for business owner or entrepreneurs who are trying to write business plans and they need to know what demand is like in their area," said Dr. Stowe. "And with this information we have that.”

The Impact of Warm Weather and Drought on Our Region

Jan 20, 2013

This is an entry in the category of Continuing Coverage for the 2013 PRNDI awards.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says an increasing number of state legislators are lining up in support of legalizing the growing of hemp as a cash crop for Kentucky farmers.

Bills have been filed in both the Kentucky House and Senate to allow the growing of industrial hemp after licensing through the agriculture department.

Speaking before the Kentucky Commodities Conference in Bowling Green Friday, Comer told WKU Public Radio hemp is a crop with potential uses for industry, clothing, paper and more. The biggest problem, he said, is overcoming the opposition of law enforcement agencies that fear growing hemp could lead to an increase in marijuana growing. The two plants are almost identical and police say hemp would serve as a cover for marijuana plots.

The push to legalize industrial hemp in Kentucky has picked up another major supporter.

The state’s largest business group, the Kentucky Chamber, announced Friday that it supports hemp as a crop for oil and fiber.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer touted the support on Twitter quickly after securing it. Comer has long said hemp could help struggling farmers in Kentucky turn profits.

Many of the state’s federal lawmakers support the issue as well, including Congressmen Andy Barr, John Yarmuth and Thomas Massie and Senator Rand Paul.

Kentucky Sheriffs' Association Executive Director Jerry Wagner says his group hasn't decided on supporting or opposing legalizing industrial hemp.

A bill to legalize hemp was filed in the Kentucky Senate Friday by the  agriculture committee chair.

Comer does not support legalizing hemp's cousin crop, marijuana.

Two men associated with a cattle brokerage company have pleaded guilty to a federal charge in connection with a scheme that cost 172 farmers more than $840,000.

The Glasgow Daily Times reports that Thomas P. Gibson and Michael Steven McDonald each entered a plea in U.S. District Court in Kentucky to one count of mail fraud.

They previously pleaded guilty in Metcalfe Circuit Court to charges related to the scheme and agreed to fully repay farmers who sold cattle to Eastern Livestock.

The plea on the federal charge was entered last month. Brian Butler, Gibson's attorney, told the newspaper that his client never meant to hurt anyone, but has taken responsibility for what happened.

Comer: Industrial Hemp Bill to be Introduced in Frankfort Soon

Jan 3, 2013

Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner is continuing a push to legalize industrial hemp. James Comer says a hemp bill will be introduced next week by Shelby County Republican Senator Paul Hornback.

Comer has spent the past several months trying to convince law enforcement groups that industrial hemp won’t lead to an increase in marijuana growth, but he says the decision ultimately rests with the General Assembly.

“Whether they support it or not, the legislators are the lawmakers. They’re the ones that make the laws and the state police will abide by the law,” said Comer, who is a Monroe County farmer. “So I wish everybody was on board, but at the end of the day my job as Ag Commissioner is to help farmers and to create jobs in rural communities. And this bill will do that and hopefully we can get it passed.”

Comer says the bill will detail how the state agriculture department would regulate the growing of hemp. An economic impact study conducted by the University of Kentucky on the crop’s market potential is expected to be released in early February.

If the measure passes the state legislature, Comer says he will then focus on trying to get hemp reclassified at the federal level. Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Bowling Green has appeared several times with Comer in recent months to support the legalization of industrial hemp. Sen. Paul says he'll champion federal efforts to reclassify hemp.

Before he joins the call for legalized industrial hemp, Gov. Steve Beshear wants law enforcement officials to resolve their concerns about the issue.

The issue: Some Kentucky officials believe legalized industrial hemp would be good for Kentucky's economy, but law enforcement officials are concerned that such a move would conflict with efforts to crack down on marijuana growers.

“I think we’re going to have to answer those questions before we can really move forward in the industrial hemp area,” Beshear said.

Kentucky is central in the movement to legalize hemp as an agricultural crop, largely thanks to the advocacy of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.