The chairman of Kentucky's Industrial Hemp Commission believes it's just a matter of time before the crop is once again legal in the U.S.
Brian Furnish says it was a major accomplishment to get an amendment regarding hemp added to the farm bill recently passed by the U.S. House. While there's no guarantee the amendment will be included in the version of the measure passed by the Senate, Furnish says he's confident public support for hemp farming is growing.
The Harrison County farmer told WKU Public Radio that hemp seeds could become a popular food ingredient in this country.
"It's high in protein, it doesn't have any cholesterol. It has omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in it. And really nobody knows about it here. They eat it all over the world, but here nobody has promoted it as a food source."
Furnish also thinks the crop is a natural fit with a major industry in our region--auto manufacturing. He says if hemp is once again legal to grow in the U.S, auto manufacturers could follow the lead of their European counterparts who use hemp to build vehicle parts.
WKU Public Radio's interview with Agriculture Commissioner James Comer
Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner says Republicans need to focus on the economy in order to win statewide office, as opposed to stressing social issues.
In an interview at WKU Public Radio Wednesday, James Comer said the GOP has alienated a lot of key voting groups by making hot-button social topics the cornerstone of their campaigns.
“I’m proud to be a social conservative, but I’m not going to run any campaign in the future—regardless of what I run for—specifically on social issues. That has driven off young voters, and that has driven off female voters.”
Comer’s comments echo much of what Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul has said recently about the future of the GOP, and the party’s need to become more attractive to groups of voters that will determine Republicans’ future electoral prospects.
For industrial hemp supporters, Thursday’s farm bill vote in the U.S. House is a case of good news and bad news.
The good news: a bi-partisan amendment passed a floor vote and was added to the $940 billion farm bill package.
The bad news: that farm bill was ultimately voted down, with 195 House members voting in favor, and 234 voting against.
The hemp amendment was co-sponsored by Kentucky’s Fourth District Representative Thomas Massie, and would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes. It would apply to states where industrial hemp growth has been legalized.
Nineteen states have passed pro-hemp legislation, while nine others—including Kentucky—have removed certain barriers to the crop’s production.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and Monroe County native James Comer recently led a delegation to Washington D.C. to lobby lawmakers and White House officials on behalf of hemp legalization.
Governor Steve Beshear sent a letter to President Obama this week asking for help in identifying economic opportunities for industrial hemp production.
In the letter, Beshear asked the U.S. Attorney General, Agriculture Secretary, D.E.A., and others to look for ways hemp could eventually be grown and marketed that don’t negatively impact Kentucky’s drug eradication efforts.
In April, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer led a bipartisan delegation to Washington to lobby lawmakers and White House officials to legalize industrial hemp. Kentucky lawmakers this year passed a bill that would set up the regulatory framework for growing and marketing hemp if the crop is removed from the federal government’s list of banned substances.
Kentucky’s two U.S. Senators are upset that an industrial hemp measure will not be a part of a farm bill taken up next week. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul both say they will vote against the measure, calling it “regrettable” that different amendments including the Senator’s hemp addition won’t be considered.
The amendment supported by the Kentuckians would have exempted hemp with 0.3 percent less of THC from the list of banned drugs prohibited by the federal government. THC is the psychoactive compound present in marijuana that creates a high when the drug is smoked.
In a joint statement, Senators McConnell and Paul said they weren’t giving up on getting industrial hemp legalized, and would look at other ways to get federal law changed.
The actions follow this year’s vote by Kentucky lawmakers to create a regulatory framework for hemp production if the federal government legalizes the crop.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has made hemp legalization his number one legislative priority, and led a bi-partisan group to Washington D.C. in May to lobby lawmakers, White House officials, and others on the issue.
Kevin's interview with Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and Monroe County native James Comer
Kentucky's agriculture commissioner says last week's setback shouldn't cause hemp supporters to give up hopes of getting the crop legalized. James Comer told WKU Public Radio he's not surprised language legalizing industrial hemp failed to get added to the first drafts of farm bills in the U.S. House and Senate.
Last week, a group of Kentucky U.S. Senators and House members tried--and failed--to get that language included in the legislation.
Comer says the federal farm bill has a long way to go before it gets passed, and a lot of things will be added and taken out in the next few months.
"And I learned during this last session in Kentucky, when I read in the papers that (House Speaker) Greg Stumbo would say my bill was dead, that it's not over until the very last day, so we're still holding out hope on it," said Comer, a farmer from Monroe County.
Industrial hemp legalization has failed to make it into draft copies of farm bills in the U.S. House and Senate.
The hemp issue enjoys the support of seven of the eight members of Kentucky’s federal delegation, and Senator Mitch McConnell had explored the possibility of inserting a hemp legalization provision in the Senate farm measure.
However, that provision didn’t have wide enough backing among Senators to make the farm bill draft.
A McConnell spokesman told the Courier-Journal that McConnell and Senator Rand Paul “continue to look at several options to move the hemp legislation through the Senate.” The spokesman said inclusion in the farm bill isn’t the only option for changing federal laws regarding industrial hemp.
Kentucky lawmakers this year passed a bill allowing farmers in the state to grow hemp if the federal government legalized the crop.
WKU Public Radio has contacted the office of Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer for any response to hemp's lack of inclusion in the draft farm bills. We will bring you any reaction when we receive it.
A trio of Kentuckians who favor the legalization of hemp says a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers and executive branch officials was beneficial.
Former state treasurer Jonathan Miller, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and State Senator Paul Hornback spent three days in D.C. pushing for either the national legalization of industrial hemp, or a waiver to grow it in the commonwealth.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a bill that sets up the framework to grow hemp in Kentucky if it's legalized on the federal level. The group met with most of Kentucky's federal delegation as well as officials from the Energy and Agriculture departments. Miller says the overall response to their message was positive, and even House Speaker John Boehner indicated he would like to see hemp legalized.
"He ultimately concluded that he was very favorable and that he would use his influence and talk with Senator McConnell to develop a strategy to seek its passage," Miller says.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was joined by most of Kentucky’s federal delegation in a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration seeking clarification on the industrial hemp issue.
Kentucky passed a law earlier this year that would allow industrial hemp farming — but only if the DEA ever lifts restrictions on the plant.
Sen. Rand Paul and Reps. Andy Barr, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie, Ed Whitfield and John Yarmuth co-signed the letter with McConnell on Thursday. They asked whether the DEA has reconsidered its hemp regulation in light of legislative action in Kentucky and elsewhere. Rep. Hal Rogers didn’t sign.
Hemp is similar to marijuana but has a negligible amount of the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Proponents say it could be an important crop for Kentucky.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is finalizing details for an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., to try and get a federal waiver for industrial hemp.
Earlier this year, Kentucky lawmakerspassed a bill setting up a regulatory framework for hemp growing in Kentucky. Comer promises to work at the federal level for legalization or a waiver.
And now, Comer says he'll be head to Washington the week after Derby meeting to meet executive branch officials and others.
"Very high level people in the Obama administration, very high people in Congress outside of Kentucky, then we'll have a meeting in Senator McConnell's office with the Kentucky delegation," Comer says.