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January 29, 2013
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Law enforcement group opposes industrial hemp legislation, efforts to legalize growing the crop in Kentucky

Says marijuana growers could obtain license to grow hemp, hide pot plants in hemp fields

Says marijuana growers could obtain license to grow hemp, then hide marijuana plants in legal industrial hemp fields

Staff report

SOMERSET, Ky. (Jan. 29, 2013) — Industrial hemp production in Kentucky is not economically sound, would impose an unnecessary financial burden on the state, and could facilitate future efforts to legalize its cousin – marijuana, says Operation UNITE, an anti-drug organization covering 32 counties in southern and eastern Kentucky.

The organization issued a press release Monday, the same day the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission voted to support Sen. Paul Hornback’s Senate Bill 50, legislation that establishes a framework if and when the federal government acts to re-introduce industrial hemp into Kentucky’s agri-economy.

The legalization and growth of hemp in Kentucky would impede law enforcement officers’ marijuana eradication efforts, said Tommy Loving, executive director of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association (KNOA).

The legalization and growth of hemp in Kentucky would impede law enforcement officers’ marijuana eradication efforts, said Tommy Loving, executive director of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association (KNOA).

The hemp commission, chaired by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, says Kentucky has the perfect climate and soil to produce industrial hemp, and the farmers to grow it.

The group commissioned an economic impact study to be performed by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture with the hopes that such a study could have an impact on the discussion at the federal level to legalize industrial hemp, Comer said.

Dan Smoot, vice president of Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education), said hemp is not in high demand and it would cause more problems than benefits.

“All of the rhetoric you’re hearing from the small group of proponents seeking to reintroduce hemp cultivation is based on desired outcomes, not reality,” he said. “You have some prominent people supporting Senate Bill 50 and House Bill 33, but they are looking through rose-colored glasses if they believe hemp production would be a good alternative crop or provide an economic boom.”

The legalization and growth of hemp in Kentucky would impede law enforcement officers’ marijuana eradication efforts, said Tommy Loving, executive director of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association (KNOA).

“Although industrial hemp contains only a small percentage of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, the plants are indistinguishable to the eye,” he said. “Without laboratory analysis, you can’t tell them apart.”

“I believe this is just the first step in the process to legalize marijuana, which I’m definitely against. It has the potential of creating mass confusion and problems for law enforcement.” — Sheriff Kevin Johnson of Clay County

Because of the relationship between hemp and marijuana, UNITE said, hemp is considered a controlled substance and is not legally able to be grown in the United States without a permit from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Industrial hemp is a fiber and oil seed crop with a wide variety of uses. Hemp fibers have been used to manufacture hundreds of products that include twine, paper, construction materials, carpeting and clothing. Seeds have been used in making industrial oils, cosmetics, medicines and food, according to the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. All hemp products sold in the U.S. are imported or manufactured from imported hemp and must meet a zero tolerance level.

Reacting to Comers comments that hemp would have an “immediate impact of thousands of jobs,” law enforcement officials expressed skepticism, UNITE said in its press release.

“Is there a limited market for industrial hemp? Probably so, but the market is not going to be as great as they’re proposing it to be,” said Sheriff Kevin Johnson of Clay County, one of the major marijuana-growing areas of the state. “Where are the independent studies? If there was a huge market for hemp there would be lobbyists sitting in Washington trying to get this legalized on a national level.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has researched the economic potential for hemp grown by American farmers and found the U.S. market for hemp fibers is, and will likely remain, only a small, thin market, Smoot said.

“In addition, studies conducted in parts of the world where hemp production is legal conclude that it is not profitable without subsidies and farmers need to be near processing facilities,” he said.

Advocates for the legislation, which is expected to be addressed by the Kentucky General Assembly in coming weeks, maintain that requiring individuals to pass a background check, obtain a license to grow hemp and plant at least 10 acres would provide safeguards and not inhibit efforts to locate illegal marijuana crops.

“One of our fears is that illegal growers will sign up as a legitimate hemp producer then co-mingle the crops,” Loving said. “While there could be some cross-pollination that would lower the quality of the marijuana, it wouldn’t be significant enough to impact this type of illegal venture.”

“It would be very enticing for someone to obtain a license to grow hemp, then divert a small part of their fields to growing illegal marijuana,” agreed Jere Hopson, director of the South Central Kentucky Drug Task Force. “Law enforcement wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without testing, and how would you even know which plants to test?”

A half-acre of illegal marijuana would potentially outweigh the profit from 10 acres of hemp, said Hopson, who recently retired from the KSP after 22 years, the last 14 with the Drug Enforcement/Special Investigations West Branch.

“I’ve been involved in the eradication of a lot of marijuana over the years with the Kentucky State Police,” Hopson noted. “I’ve had an opportunity to speak with many people who used to grow hemp when it was legal around World War II. They tell me that hemp is not an easy product to grow. It’s very labor-intensive from start to finish – probably more intensive than tobacco.”

“Unless a definite market for hemp can be identified, would there be people willing to put that much effort into this to make it worthwhile?” Hopson questioned. “There is no product that used to be made from hemp that can’t be made with cheaper and/or better materials today.”

“I believe this is just the first step in the process to legalize marijuana, which I’m definitely against,” Johnson said. “It has the potential of creating mass confusion and problems for law enforcement.”

Responding to law enforcement critics of the efforts to legalize industrial hemp, Comer said he felt the press release exemplified a government out of control and that these individuals went too far in taking a position on the popularity of the issue and economic viability of the crop. Comer said he visited all 120 Kentucky counties last year and the issue has enormous support, from Paducah to Pikeville.

“Everyone knows that industrial hemp is marijuana’s worst nightmare because it kills the toxicity in the marijuana plant,” Comer said. “So it is very troubling to me when I hear reports that marijuana growers and certain members of law enforcement are on the same side. The arguments from our opposition are shallow, misleading, and downright wrong. I believe the best way to get people off drugs is to put them back to work.”

More than 370 members of the KNOA voted unanimously to oppose hemp legislation at the group’s annual meeting in November, according to the press release. The Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police (KACP) Executive Board also unanimously voted to oppose hemp production.

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