Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hemp bill passes Kentucky House committee; fate uncertain

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville and backed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, easily passed the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee.
The sole dissenting vote was from Republican Tommy Turner, who said he remains unconvinced that it can easily be distinguished from marijuana.
But Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has not agreed to allow a floor vote.
Comer and other supporters — including most of the state’s federal congressional delegation — argue that passing the regulatory setup would position Kentucky to be among the first states to produce hemp, bringing jobs with the processing plants that would be needed to prepare hemp for manufacturers.
Stumbo is skeptical that the risk of complicating marijuana enforcement is worth the jobs hemp production could bring to the state. Those concerns have been raised by the Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement groups.
Stumbo has requested an attorney general’s opinion about whether an existing law that says Kentucky’s hemp policy will mirror the federal government’s is sufficient if the federal government allows production of hemp, which currently is classified alongside its higher THC relative marijuana.
The bill would require growers to be licensed annually and undergo a background check by the Agriculture Department. Each licensee would be required to plant a minimum of 10 acres, a provision meant to keep licenses from people who are not serious about the effort.
Growers would have to keep sales contracts for three years and provide names of hemp buyers to the department. People transporting the hemp also would be regulated.
The bill appeared dead last week after the House ag chairman adjourned a committee meeting after two hours of testimony without taking a vote. At the time, Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, wanted his committee to approve substitute language that would have replaced the bill’s regulatory provisions with field trials by the University of Kentucky.
Comer has said he isn’t worried about the bill being bottled up after the committee’s vote, saying it’s garnered widespread attention across the state.
U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have proposed federal legislation that would distinguish hemp from marijuana, clearing the way for cultivation.
Hemp looks like marijuana and typically contains less than 0.3 percent THC — the active ingredient in marijuana.
Marijuana’s THC content is between 3 percent and 15 percent. But both are classified the same under federal drug policy.
The latest Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll found that 65 percent of Kentuckians favor legalizing hemp for industrial uses, compared to 22 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure. The poll had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

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