Agriculture

House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins has proposed an amendment that he believes could revive legislation intended to allow Kentucky to quickly license hemp growers if the federal government ever lifts a ban on the plant.

Adkins' proposal would involve the University of Kentucky in hemp research and would revamp the Kentucky Hemp Commission to include the Kentucky State Police commissioner and the UK agriculture dean as co-chairs along with the state agriculture commissioner.

"I would hope that we could keep an open mind over these next few days," Adkins said. "I know there are parts of it that people won't like; there are parts of it they do."

The hemp legislation has been hotly debated this year in Frankfort. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Adkins' proposal seems to be "a path forward" but that he will have to take a closer look before deciding whether to support it.

In its second try, the Kentucky House agriculture committee approved a bill Wednesday creating a regulatory framework for growing hemp in Kentucky, if the federal government were to legalize the crop.

The hemp bill—championed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—got only one "no" vote in the House agriculture committee.

Last week, an ag committee meeting abruptly ended after a tense exchange among lawmakers on the hemp issue.

Several House lawmakers said they voted for the bill to support farmers and hopefully create more jobs in the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

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.

Hemp Supporters Ratchet Up Pressure, Imply McKee Could Face Election Challenge

Feb 28, 2013

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.

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.

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