By Lorie Hailey
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Steve Beshear told reporters Tuesday that he wants law enforcement concerns about industrial hemp resolved before the state approves a measure to allow farmers here to grow it if the federal government lifts restrictions.
Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education), Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association, Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police and other police organizations have expressed opposition to Senate Bill 50, which passed 31-6 last week.
Proponents of the bill, including Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, say industrial hemp would be a good alternative to tobacco and other crops and could boost the state’s economy if it is legalized.
But law enforcement officials have said 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. The production of hemp also could impede law enforcement’s marijuana eradication efforts, they say.
“Although industrial hemp contains only a small percentage of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, the plants are indistinguishable to the eye,” said Tommy Loving, executive director of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association. “Without laboratory analysis, you can’t tell them apart.”
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.
Beshear told reporters Tuesday that lawmakers should carefully examine the concerns of Kentucky law enforcement officials, given the drug abuse epidemic here, according to the Associated Press. Last week, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, also voiced his concerns about the legalizing the production of a plant that has leaves nearly identical to marijuana.
Former CIA director James Woolsey (Clinton Administration) spoke in favor of the bill at the Senate Agriculture Committee meeting, where the bill was first heard.
“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.”
Under Senate Bill 50, the state Department of Agriculture would be 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.
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. Industrial hemp can be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics, cosmetics and other merchandise.