James Comer

Comer to Lead Pro-Hemp Delegation to Washington

Mar 29, 2013
Kentucky Department of Agriculture

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer will lead a Kentucky delegation to Washington to ask for an exemption to allow farmers in his state to grow industrial hemp.

That announcement comes after the Kentucky Legislature passed a bill that lays the groundwork for licensing hemp growers if the federal government ever lifts a ban on the crop.

Hemp thrived in Kentucky generations ago but was banned after the federal government classified it as a controlled substance.

Comer has said hemp could be an economic boon for Kentucky. Besides creating another crop for the state's farmers, Comer said hemp could lead to manufacturing jobs that produce products ranging from paper to cosmetics.

Negotiations have broken down on a bill that would allow Kentucky to quickly license hemp growers if the federal government ever lifts a ban on the crop, according to a state legislative leader.

House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Catlettsburg, had voiced optimism early Monday that a deal could be struck between House and Senate negotiators before the Legislature adjourns on Tuesday. However, by Monday night, he said he was disappointed by the lack of progress.

The hemp legislation has been hotly debated this year in Frankfort and was languishing in the House before Adkins stepped in with a proposal that seemed to revive it.

Hemp thrived as a crop in Kentucky generations ago but has been banned for decades by the federal government after it was classified as a controlled substance.

Kentucky's industrial hemp supporters lashed out Thursday against a last-minute amendment to the hemp bill that's been under consideration this year in the General Assembly.

State Rep. Rocky Adkins, a Sandy Hook Democrat and the majority floor leader, has proposed an amendment turning the Senate-approve hemp bill into a five year study. It also gives the licensing responsibilities to Kentucky State Police, which argues that legalized hemp would harm law enforcement efforts to target hemp's cousin, marijuana.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is the leading proponent of the hemp bill, which establishes a regulatory framework in Kentucky for hemp farming should the federal government ease its restrictions on the plant.

"I think that was the straw that broke the camel's back with the public that are keeping up with this issue, so I think they've heard from the people of Kentucky: don't study this issue," Comer said. "Let's set up the regulatory framework, don't get in the way of creating jobs and helping our farmers."

Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner is speaking out against efforts to amend his number one legislative priority—a much talked-about industrial hemp measure. James Comer says an amendment allowing five years of hemp growing demonstration projects in the state is just an effort to kill the bill.

The measure has enjoyed a good deal of bipartisan support in Frankfort, and passed the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee. But the bill is now hanging by a thread after House Speaker Greg Stumbo refused to allow the bill an up-or-down vote. And the Courier-Journal reports Comer isn’t pleased with an amendment offered this week that would have the Kentucky State Police—instead of the Agriculture Department—issue licenses for hemp-growing demonstration projects.

Still, the bill’s sponsor—Senator Paul Hornback of Shelbyville—says he plans to meet with House leaders next week to allow some kind of action on the measure when lawmakers return for the final two days of the session on March 25th and 26th.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo announced Monday that hemp legislation won't be going any further this legislative session. 

The Courier-Journal reports the bill has been assigned to the Rules Committee. Stumbo told the newspaper "the calendar won't allow us to consider any bills that are in the Rules Committee."

Monday is the 26th day of the 30 day session. Monday and Tuesday are devoted to bills that have cleared both chambers, while the final two days of the session are reserved for overriding any gubernatorial vetoes.

In its second try, the Kentucky House agriculture committee approved a bill Wednesday creating a regulatory framework for growing hemp in Kentucky, if the federal government were to legalize the crop.

The hemp bill—championed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—got only one "no" vote in the House agriculture committee.

Last week, an ag committee meeting abruptly ended after a tense exchange among lawmakers on the hemp issue.

Several House lawmakers said they voted for the bill to support farmers and hopefully create more jobs in the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Monday that an industrial hemp bill will get a hearing this week in the House Agriculture Committee.

Comer is a major supporter of industrial hemp, and has enlisted the backing of a bipartisan group of federal and state lawmakers. Comer met Monday with Rep. Tom McKee, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and secured from McKee a promise that Senate Bill 50 will get a committee vote Wednesday.

McKee effectively blocked the bill from progressing last week after he tried to get language added to the measure that would have mandated a study of hemp by University of Kentucky researchers. The move by McKee led to some hard feelings between him and hemp backers, but Comer says his meeting with McKee was a productive one, and that things appear to be smoothed over.

Speaking to WKU Public Radio Monday, Comer said he liked the bill's chances to pass the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday. And he says he's not worried about the face that House Speaker Greg Stumbo opposes the measure.

The Kentucky House Agriculture Committee chairman blocked a vote on the hemp bill on Wednesday morning after a tense exchange with a Republican supporter of the legislation.

The hemp bill would create a regulatory framework in Kentucky, should the federal government legalize it.

Rep. Tom McKee, the ag committee chairman and a Cynthiana Democrat, wanted to amend the bill to turn it into a study, which the bill's supporters oppose.

The founder and CEO of a hemp foods company will appear Wednesday morning in Frankfort to speak on behalf of an industrial hemp bill. The measure—which has passed the Kentucky Senate—would set up a regulatory framework should federal laws criminalizing hemp be changed.

The House Agriculture and Small Business Committee will hear from Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva, the fastest growing hemp foods company in the U.S.

Despite Republican support for the hemp bill, there appears to be too much Democratic opposition to the measure for it to pass this legislative session. Both Governor Steve Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo have said they are siding with Kentucky law enforcement groups that say legalizing hemp will make it too difficult to distinguish between the crop and marijuana.

Kentucky's agriculture leaders are supporting a new five year strategic plan to help the industry in the state.

The plan, put together by the Kentucky Agriculture Council, puts emphasis on agriculture education, creating new markets and recruiting new people to farming.

The plan runs through 2018 and has the support of Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

Gov. Steve Beshear also supports the plan, which he says is a extension of the first agriculture strategic plan presented to him five years ago.

The state Senate has passed a bill aimed at creating a hemp industry in Kentucky, though the bill still appears to lack the support of key government leaders.

The Senate's 31-6 vote sends to the House a measure establishing oversight for Kentucky industrial hemp farmers if the crop is legalized at the federal level. The Senate vote comes on the heels of a poll stating that most Kentuckians believe legalized hemp would create jobs.

High-profile opponents remain unmoved.

And the hemp bill's fate in the state House isn't so clear.

The poll, conducted by RunSwitch Public Relations and Harper Polling, stated that 65 percent of Kentuckians believe that hemp would create jobs—and that only 16 percent believed that law enforcement concerns about hemp should take priority.

Kentucky LRC

After testimony from a bevy of high-level supporters, the state Senate agriculture committee unanimously approved Monday a bill that would establish oversight for Kentucky  industrial hemp farmer if hemp were made legal federally.

Agriculture Commission James Comer—the leading proponent of industrial hemp in Kentucky—recruited U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie and John Yarmuth to speak in favor of the bill at the committee, as well as U.S. Sen.  Rand Paul. But the bill has opposition from many law enforcement agencies, including the Kentucky State Police and Operation UNITE, a federally-funded program.

The crop could create jobs in Kentucky in agriculture and other industries through hemp's use as a strong material, said Comer, a Republican. The legislative approved in committee Monday, Senate Bill 50, is Comer's chief legislative priority.

The effort to legalize industrial hemp is gaining steam nationally and in Kentucky. State lawmakers will hold a hearing today in Frankfort about the issue, and some heavy-hitters are lined up to back the effort.

Appearing at Monday's hearing will be U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Representatives John Yarmuth and Thomas Massie, and former CIA Director James Woolsey. Also appearing will be Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who has made the legalization of industrial hemp his number one legislative priority.

Law enforcement groups remain opposed to legalizing hemp because they say it will be impossible to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. Supporters say it's not difficult to tell the difference between the two plants.

Kentucky Public Radio Frankfort Bureau Chief Kenny Colston is covering today's hearing on hemp and we'll have updates online, at our Facebook page, and during our state and regional newscasts later today on All Things Considered.

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 chances for some form of comprehensive  immigration reform in the U.S. appear to be growing, with President Obama and a growing number of Congressional leaders saying they're willing to take on the emotional issue.

Any change to how immigrants receive citizenship or permanent legal status would have a big impact on America's farms and livestock operations, which depend heavily on immigrant labor.

WKU Public Radio's Kevin Willis spoke Wednesday with Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer about how immigration reform might impact farmers in the Bluegrass State.

Here are some excerpts from their conversation:

Given your personal experience as a farmer in Monroe County and your job as Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, what do you make of the national discussions concerning new opportunities for immigrants to earn either citizenship or at least some form of permanent legal status?

"I've talked to Sen. McConnell and Sen. Paul about this issue, and we need immigration reform in the agriculture community in Kentucky. Anyone who drives up and down the road and sees farmers who are growing crops like tobacco, or vegetables, or has a dairy operation--they will see immigrant labor."

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