FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 11, 2013) – A bill that would regulate industrial hemp crops in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government received unanimous support of the Senate Agriculture committee today.
Senate Bill 50, sponsored by committee chair Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would make the state Department of Agriculture responsible for monitoring industrial hemp. Farmers wishing to grow hemp in Kentucky would register with the department and submit to criminal background checks before receiving licenses. Licenses would be renewed yearly.
Industrial hemp can be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics, cosmetics and other merchandise.
Republican Majority Leader Damon Thayer made the motion for passage as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth and Thomas Massie and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer testified together in support of the bill. The motion was seconded by Democrat Sen. Robin Webb.
Comer said industrial hemp would be a good alternative to tobacco and other crops and could boost the state’s economy if it is legalized.
Currently, the growing of hemp is prohibited by federal law. Paul, Yarmuth and Massie told the committee they are working on legislation or an exemption for Kentucky that would lift that restriction.
“I see no reason why we wouldn’t want to be a leader in this,” Paul said. “Why not legalize something that could produce jobs and probably will?”
Yarmuth vowed to work with Sen. Paul toward a federal waiver that would allow Kentucky to be a pilot state for hemp production.
“All of us here are strongly committed to making sure Kentucky is not left behind in any area,” he said. “This is an area I am convinced will happen. Industrial hemp will become a major crop and a major source of a variety of products throughout this country. We need to be positioned to take advantage of that.”
Massie is a primary sponsor of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to legalize industrial hemp. Massie, a farmer in northeastern Kentucky, said he and other farmers in his area are looking for an alternative to tobacco since much burley production in the area has disappeared.
“It’s the dream of my wife and me to pass our family farm on to our children and for them not to have to subdivide it or cut all the timber,” Massie said. “But for them to do that, there has to be a viable economic alternative.”
Addressing law enforcement critics of the bill, James Woolsey, Director of Central Intelligence during the Clinton administration, said a producer would only grow hemp and marijuana side by side “if he knows nothing about botany,” he said.
“There are 35 industrial western countries that permit the growing of hemp,” said Woolsey, a member of the North American Industrial Hemp Council. “We cannot find one that has had a problem in distinguishing industrial hemp from marijuana.”
Senate Bill 50 would put a framework in place to responsibly track and monitor hemp production in the state if that happens, Comer said.
Under the bill, state and local law enforcement would receive notification of licenses with exact GPS coordinates of hemp crop locations. Crops not used for research purposes would be at least 10 acres in size.
The bill also requires documentation from a licensed hemp grower when transporting hemp from a field or other production site.
The measure would allow Kentuckians to get a jump on the market of legalized hemp production, including the jobs and revenue it would generate, Hornback said.
“It’s not very often we get the opportunity to put our commonwealth in a position to take advantage of an opportunity,” he said. “If you sit around and wait… you’re going to miss out… I think we have to be first.”
The federal delegation praised Comer, who has championed this cause from the beginning of his administration.
“Frankfort insiders said it couldn’t be done,” Comer said. “But we never gave up, and we are now one step closer to putting Kentucky in the lead for jobs.”
Hornback has vowed to push for quick passage of SB 50 on the Senate Floor.