Comer says three businesses prepared to contract with Ky. farmers
By Lorie Hailey
FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 6, 2013) — The House agriculture and small business committee today passed the industrial hemp bill, 21-4.
Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, establishes the framework for Kentucky to grow industrial hemp once it gets federal approval to do so. The bill has been a top issue for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who told The Lane Report that three businesses are ready to contract with Kentucky industrial hemp farmers.
“It was a major issue in the campaign, so I educated myself on the issue,” he said. “It won’t solve all of Kentucky’s problems, but it is a start. Kentucky needs any jobs we can get.”
Reintroducing hemp to Kentucky would give farmers a new crop, Comer said, and create processing jobs to turn the fiber and seeds into products ranging from paper to biofuels. The intent of SB 50, he said, “is to position Kentucky with a responsible program that could achieve a waiver from the federal government.”
Today, Comer said Kentuckians have spoken out in favor of industrial hemp as a way to grow jobs in Kentucky, and the House agriculture committee listened. He urged House leadership to “move this bill to the floor for a vote as soon as possible.”
A long, bumpy road
Hemp’s relationship to marijuana has complicated the issue — the plants are different varieties of the same species, Cannabis sativa L. Hemp contains very low amounts of THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes a psychoactive effect in users. Industrial hemp, which once was a vibrant crop in Kentucky, is grown for its seeds, oil and fiber, and can be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics, cosmetics and other merchandise.
The issue has been a political football during this short General Assembly session. Supporters have been active and vocal, and largely Republican. The Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission voted unanimously to support SB 50, and members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation from both parties, CEOs of national businesses, and a former CIA director have voiced support for the hemp legislation. U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul introduced a federal bill to allow American farmers to cultivate and profit from industrial hemp.
Opponents have included law enforcement agencies and some Democrats who have said the state should start down the industrial hemp road by first having the University of Kentucky conduct field trials.
Police officers raised their opposition early, saying 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 marijuana. The production of hemp also could impede law enforcement’s marijuana eradication efforts, they said.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Gov. Steve Beshear also voiced concerns about the bill.
The Senate passed the bill, 31-6, on Feb. 14, but when the legislation was sent to the House, it hit a snag.
On Feb. 27, after nearly two hours of debate, House agriculture committee members were prepared to vote on SB 50, but the process was stopped in its tracks by chairman Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana.
McKee refused to allow a vote, even though a motion had been made and seconded. He said the hearing was for discussion only and adjourned the meeting. McKee also said he would reconvene the committee for further action on the bill at 4:30 p.m. that day, but he later canceled the meeting and adjourned the committee at his desk.
Industrial hemp supporters, including Comer, conducted a press conference the next day to lambast McKee for his actions.
“I was a little embarrassed by the process,” the agriculture commissioner told reporters. “What do you tell people from out of state who come in [and say], ‘Is this how you all do business in Kentucky?’”
Supporters believe there is still time for SB 50 to be passed. There are six days left in the session.