By Thomas H. Clarke on March 27, 2013
LOUISVILLE, KY — With less than an hour remaining in the regular legislative session, the Kentucky House voted 88-4 late Tuesday night to pass an amended version of a hemp bill that has been feared dead for over a week.
Just a few minutes later, the Senate, who already voted in favor of the original bill, voted 35-1 to pass the amended version.
The bill, Senate Bill 50, now heads to the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear for approval. The Democratic governor has said he shares some concerns with the Kentucky State Police who opposed the Republican-sponsored bill. Beshear hasn’t said whether he would veto the hemp bill or sign int into law.
Under the bill, Kentucky will be able to license industrial farmers to grow industrial hem, but only if the federal government ever lifts a ban on cultivating the crop. The State Police would have access to GPS coordinates of licensed hemp fields. Hemp growers would undergo criminal background checks, and each grower would be limited to 10 acres per license. A production license would be valid for one year.
“We have, in my opinion, put together a strong bill,” said House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Catlettsburg. “We will be on the cutting edge and be ready to hit the ground running.”
The bill had strong support, but was feared dead in the House as lawmakers were unable to agree on who would oversee the hemp program. An eleventh hour compromise deal between House Democrats and Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) that will allow hemp licensing by the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission under the control of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture brought the bill back to life.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said the bill will leave the hemp commission with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The research functions will be performed by the University of Kentucky.
Both of Kentucky’s Republican US Senators, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, have sponsored federal legislation to allow cultivation of hemp, while endorsing the pending measure in their home state.
Hemp thrived in Kentucky generations ago but has been banned for decades since the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp products can legally be sold in the United States, but the hemp must be imported from other countries.
Over thirty countries produce industrial hemp, including Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has said the crop 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.
“By passing this bill, the General Assembly has signaled that Kentucky is serious about restoring industrial hemp production to the commonwealth and doing it in the right way,” Comer said in a statement. “That will give Kentucky’s congressional delegation more leverage when they seek a federal waiver allowing Kentucky farmers to grow hemp.”
The bill was unpopular with law enforcement officials. They say hemp could be used to camouflage marijuana, which has similar looking leaves but far less potency. Hemp has a negligible content of THC.
A February poll found that a strong majority – over 65% – of Kentucky voters support the cultivation of hemp by local farmers.
Bills to allow the cultivation of hemp have been introduced in several other states this year.