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.
Kentucky Sheriffs' Association Executive Director Jerry Wagner says his group hasn't decided on supporting or opposing legalizing industrial hemp. Wagner and other members of the KSA board met with Agriculture Commissioner James Comer Thursday in Frankfort for more information on the subject.
Republican advocates of industrial hemp in Kentucky are getting some across the aisle help. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Louisville Democrat, supports efforts to legalize the plant in Kentucky, his spokesman said. U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer are the two leading advocates for the move.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says he will seek to legalize industrial hemp in 2013, and to kick off the effort he convened a Wednesday meeting of a hemp commission that hasn't met in years. Comer told members of Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission that passing hemp legislation will be his top priority in next year's General Assembly.
Recent calls by high-ranking Kentucky officeholders to legalize industrial hemp have put the spotlight on the crop and what it might mean for Bluegrass State farmers. Both U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer say they want to see federal and state law changed to allow farmers to grow hemp legally.