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.
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.
A new partnership in Kentucky is combining the efforts of state dairy farmers and the world's largest retailer.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced Monday that Walmart stores in central and south-central Kentucky will soon begin stocking a line of milk products that is sourced and processed entirely at commonwealth dairy farms.
Calling it one of the most significant developments in the history of the Kentucky Proud marketing program. Comer unveiled the “Udderly Kentucky” partnership, which will stock Walmart stores in the Bluegrass State with milk from 105 Kentucky dairy farms.
The program will return a 7-cent-per-gallon premium to each participating supplier. According to Comer, the average participating Kentucky dairy operation will generate $19,000 annually from the agreement.
Comer told WKU Public Radio he's been working on the partnership with Walmart since he took office in 2012. And he says he’s aware that many in the local-food movement eye Walmart with a great deal of suspicion and even disdain, given controversy surrounding the company’s business and employment practices.
Comer says he brought the issue up with the retailer when negotiating the deal.
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.
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.