Hemp supporters will rally in Washington D.C. Monday.
Members of Vote Hemp and other groups are descending on the nation’s capital for Hemp Lobby Day to convince Congress to lift a federal ban on the plant for industrial use.
Earlier this year Kentucky lawmakers approved the research and cultivation of hemp, but it has yet to be implemented because the federal government still considers the crop a controlled substance.
The dilemma has pitted two potential gubernatorial candidates against one another: Hemp supporter and state Agricultural Commissioner James Comer, and Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway issued an opinion in September stating that under the federal ban, hemp remains illegal in the state.
“Sometimes it’s my job to say what the law is, not what I want the law to be," said the Attorney General. "I support industrial hemp, I think we can make it work. If it can create jobs, great. Now, is it the panacea for all of Kentucky’s agricultural woes? I don’t know.”
Attorney General Jack Conway is advising Kentucky leaders that industrial hemp farming remains illegal in the commonwealth.
Conway issued an advisory letter on Wednesday to Gov. Steve Beshear, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and others to clarify current law related to hemp. The letter appears to deflate hopes of hemp farming proponents who have said they'd like to begin planting next year.
Kentucky lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow farmers to grow the crop if the federal government ever lifts a longstanding ban. But Attorney General Conway said that ban remains firmly in place.
The state agriculture department recently issued a news release saying it was instructed by the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to begin drawing up regulations for hemp farming in the commonwealth. That came on the heels of comments by Justice Department officials that the federal government had no intention of prosecuting hemp farmers.
Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Commission is serving notice to the federal government that it plans to move forward with creating regulations for hemp production in the commonwealth.
A news release from the state agriculture department says staff members have been instructed to begin the process of writing rules for the development of the long-banned crop. The state’s industrial hemp commission is calling for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Senator Rand Paul to write a letter to the U.S. Justice Department to “make Kentucky’s intentions known.”
Recent changes to state law have opened the door to future hemp production in Kentucky, although growing the crop is still technically illegal under federal rules.
But Commissioner Comer is pointing to recent statements by a Justice Department official who said the federal government has no intentions of prosecuting hemp farmers.
"Surely...no entity will seek to throw up a government obstacle to moving forward with another opportunity for Kentucky farmers and for manufacturing jobs."
A study conducted by the University of Kentucky contains mixed results concerning the economic viability of growing hemp. Hemp supporters have been pushing to get the crop legalized at both the state and federal levels, saying it could create thousands of jobs and help boost the bottom lines of farmers.
The UK study says hemp could be a profitable option for some farmers in central Kentucky, but not everywhere.
The Chairman of UK’s agriculture economics department told the Courier-Journal that he didn’t want to portray the study as a “negative outcome”, saying the crop “should be viewed as one more opportunity amid many opportunities for farmers." Leigh Maynard said there would be a big “learning curve” for producers and processes to climb, given that growing hemp in the U.S. has been illegal for decades.
Maynard said it's likely hemp could become a niche crop for some farmers. Hemp seeds can be used to make fuel, foods, and personal care products.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has made hemp legalization his chief legislative priority, and says he’s optimistic about the crop’s future despite the study. According to Comer, it’s difficult to estimate the economic impact of an industry that doesn’t exist.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says federal legislation that could lead to legalizing commercial hemp production may create research opportunities at Murray State University. Comer praises the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a farm bill amendment this week that would allow university-level study of the plant that is in the same family as marijuana.
In turn, Murray State and the University of Kentucky have shown interest in developing research programs should the federal farm bill garner Senate approval. Comer says the research amendment was a compromise.
“I’m OK with this because I believe once the universities research it and people see this is not a drug – that it’s a totally different plant than its evil cousin marijuana – that people will realize that this is a crop that is an up-and-comer and that this is something we can use to enhance our manufacturing, said Comer.
The Monroe County native sees value in hemp as a viable alternative to hard plastics that he says are less sustainable and ecologically harmful.
Officials with Murray State University are eyeing hemp research should the crop be made legal in a federal farm bill.
The dean of the university's agriculture school, Tony Brannon, says he'd be interested in research opportunities involving hemp and focusing on how effective the crop would be.
Congress is weighing a provision to allow research into hemp as part of the 2013 farm bill. Kentucky has been pushing for the federal government to either allow it to be grown for commercial use or research.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says along with Murray State, the Toyota plant in Georgetown has already shown interest in using industrial hemp for manufacturing parts for the automobiles it produces.
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.