Kentucky hemp bill passes in final hour
FRANKFORT, KY. — An amended bill to regulate industrial hemp production by Kentucky farmers — if the federal government allows it — was passed by the Kentuckly legislature in the final minutes of the regular session.
In the compromise, the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission remains in the state Department of Agriculture with only research functions of the bill assigned to the University of Kentucky. The last sticking point had been an effort by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, to put the commission under UK.
That had been a dealbreaker for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, and its chief advocate, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.
Comer had already left the Capitol believing the bill was dead, but returned late Tuesday when Adkins wanted to continue talks.
“We’re very satisfied with the bill,” Comer said, adding that the next step would be working with Kentucky’s federal legislators to get a waiver for a pilot project to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky. He said public pressure to pass the bill helped achieve the last-minute deal.
The bill passed the House as amended 88-4, with Comer, a former House member, watching on the chamber floor. The Senate approved the compromise 35-1.
The bill now goes to Gov. Steve Beshear, who has said he shares the concerns of the Kentucky State Police who opposed the bill. Beshear hasn’t said whether he would veto a hemp bill if it got to him.
Hornback and Comer, who made the bill his department’s top legislative priority, say hemp can be a boost for farmers and bring processing jobs if Kentucky is among the first states to grow hemp. The federal government would have to legalize the crop or grant Kentucky a waiver.
But the state police and some House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, questioned whether hemp would be economically viable and whether it would hurt marijuana enforcement since the plants look the same.
Comer said he agreed in the compromise to be removed as chairman of the hemp commission. He will now be vice chairman and the chairman will be selected by members.
Throughout the day Tuesday, both sides had said they were close to an agreement. Hornback said there was agreement to have the state hemp commission issue licenses and the state police conduct criminal background checks on applicants.
But the final issue of whether the hemp commission would be part of the state agriculture department, the University of Kentucky or somehow split between the two nearly proved insurmountable.
Hornback preferred having all functions tied to the agriculture department.
Late in the process, Stumbo said in an interview that the hemp commission has “no business” being in the agriculture department. Asked whether that killed SB50, Stumbo said negotiations were being handled by Adkins.
Federal law classifies hemp alongside marijuana even though it typically contains less than 0.3 percent THC — the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana.
Marijuana’s THC content is between 3 percent and 15 percent.
U.S. Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell have proposed federal legislation that would distinguish hemp from marijuana. Federal lawmakers also said they would seek a waiver for Kentucky if the reclassification effort fails.
Ky voices: Rand Paul: Legalize hemp to aid Ky. economy
A recent national poll concluded that 43 percent of Americans believe unemployment and job creation is the most important issue facing our country. So it's no surprise that Republicans and Democrats in Washington claim to be big supporters of creating jobs.
But the truth is D.C. policy-makers on both sides of the aisle stifle jobs and opportunity with regulations and policies that hurt our work force. And often, it flies in the face of common sense. The perfect example of this is the debate over industrial hemp.
Prior to World War II, Kentucky led the nation in providing 94 percent of all industrialized hemp. However, it was outlawed under an umbrella law that made marijuana illegal. This was simply because they are in the same botanical family and look similar.
But there are major differences in the two plants. Marijuana is made up of 20 percent tetrohydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering chemical, while industrial hemp plants contain less than 0.3 percent.
Comparing hemp to marijuana is like comparing poppy seeds found on bagels to OxyContin. Poppy seeds are in the same family of opiate — the same family that contains codeine, morphine, OxyContin and even heroin.
Yet, you can buy and consume food containing poppy seeds, as thousands of Americans do each day, without experiencing the narcotic effects the rest of its plant is harvested for.
So, the issue with hemp isn't that the plant is harmful. It's that the plant might be mistaken for marijuana.
This presents some challenges for law enforcement. But we can address those challenges. And we can return to growing and producing hemp in Kentucky. And in the process, create jobs and opportunity here.
Let me share an example of the economic potential for industrial hemp.
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps is based in California and sells products made from hemp plants. David Bronner, the company's CEO, says it grossed over $50 million in sales this past year. But since the production of industrial hemp is outlawed in America, the company must import 100 percent of the hemp used in their products from other countries.
The company sends hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars every year to other countries because American farmers are not allowed to grow this plant. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not allow the legal growth of hemp.
Today, hemp products are sold around the U.S. in forms of paper, cosmetics, lotions, auto parts, clothes, cattle feed and so much more. If we were to start using hemp plants again for paper, we could ultimately replace using trees as the main source for our paper supply.
One acre of industrial hemp plants can grow around 15,000 pounds of green hemp in about 110 days. For every ton of hemp converted into paper, we could save 12 trees. It is a renewable, sustainable, environmentally conscious crop.
Back in August, I stood alongside Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and a bipartisan group of legislators and promised Kentuckians that I would join the fight to allow the growth and production of industrial hemp. Comer stated that day that the soil and the climate in Kentucky are perfect for the growth of hemp, and that could ultimately allow the commonwealth to be the nation's top producer.
Recently, Comer revived the long-dormant Kentucky Hemp Commission by calling its first meeting in more than 10 years. This took real leadership and I applaud him for his action. To help get the ball rolling and show our commitment, Bronner wrote a $50,000 check to the commission and I have pledged to match that donation from my personal political action committee.
While Comer and the commission work to address this issue in Kentucky, I have co-sponsored legislation in the U.S. Senate that would require the federal government to honor state laws allowing production of industrial hemp and would exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana.
My vision for the farmers and manufacturers of Kentucky is to see us start growing hemp, creating jobs and leading the nation in this industry again. These jobs will be ripe for the taking, and I want the farmers in Kentucky to be the first in line.
Hemp arises as issue in Ky. ag commissioner race
By ROGER ALFORD businessweek.com
James Comer, a state lawmaker from Tompkinsville, and Rob Rothenburger, a judge-executive from Shelbyville, haven't shied away from the issue as they prepare for their first statewide televised debate on Monday.
Theirs is a stand that most Kentucky candidates consider politically radioactive because of fears that voters might somehow leap to the false conclusion that they're also pro-marijuana.
Industrial hemp, a cousin to marijuana, is used to make textiles, paper, lotion, cosmetics and other products. Though it contains trace amounts of the mind-altering chemical tetrahydrocannabinol that makes marijuana intoxicating, it remains illegal in the U.S.
"One of the things I want to do as agriculture commissioner is explore alternative crops," Comer said Monday. "I think that that's a viable option if the federal government would provide Kentucky with a waiver and let a few farmers do a trial run on it."
Rothenburger said he is aware of the concerns of law enforcement that wayward hemp producers could try to mingle illegal marijuana among legal hemp crops.
Kentucky has an ideal climate for hemp production and, during World War II, was a leading grower of the plant that produces strong fibers that was using in fabrics, ropes and other materials for the military.
Besides the Republicans, a crowded field of Democratic agriculture commissioner candidates also will debate on Kentucky Education Television at 8 p.m. EDT. They include Louisville real estate and marketing agent Bob Farmer, Lawrenceburg farmer Stewart Gritton, Richmond lawyer and former state Sen. John Farris Lackey, retired Glasgow businessman David Williams and Frankfort farmer and businessman B.D. Wilson.
Bill Goodman, moderator of Kentucky's public television debates, said he also intends to ask the Democratic candidates their positions on industrial hemp.
The eventual Democratic and Republican nominees will square off in the fall general election to replace current Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, who had served the maximum two terms in the office.
Farmer has signed on as running mate to Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams