industrial hemp

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.

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.