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 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.
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.
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.
As Kentucky and federal lawmakers consider legalizing industrial hemp, the chair of the University of Kentucky's agriculture economics department notes that such an industry won't rise overnight.
It's a matter of economic viability. The main question being: With corn, soybeans and other crops selling at record high levels, what would entice farmers to switch to hemp instead?
Leigh Maynard, chair of the University of Kentucky’s ag economics department, said he expects farmers to be hesitant to begin growing industrial hemp. Maynard said farmers will likely balk at the idea of foregoing record high prices in other markets just to grow hemp.