Governor lets industrial hemp bill become law without his signature

Says if feds lift restrictions, there will be time to work out the details

By Lorie Hailey
lanereport.com editor

FRANKFORT, Ky.  (April 5, 2013) – Gov. Steve Beshear on Friday said he would not sign Senate Bill 50, but would allow the industrial hemp legislation to become law.

A worker is shown in a hemp field in this photo provided by Vote Hemp.
A worker is shown in a hemp field in this photo provided by Vote Hemp.

The bill, which establishes an administrative framework for Kentucky farmers to grow industrial hemp if the federal government lifts restrictions against it, was the source of much controversy during the 2013 legislative session, but lawmakers came to an agreement about the hemp bill on the last day of the session.

The governor voiced his concerns about the hemp bill throughout the session, saying law enforcement concerns about industrial hemp production should be addressed. Several police groups spoke out against SB 50, 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 its cousin – marijuana. The production of hemp also could impede law enforcement’s marijuana eradication efforts, the law enforcement agencies said.

On Friday, Beshear said he supports efforts to create additional legal cash crops for farm communities, but “we have a tremendous drug problem in Kentucky, and I want to make sure that we don’t do anything that will increase that drug problem. I still share the same concerns our law enforcement officers have about the impact hemp cultivation may have on our drug eradication efforts,” he said.

“The bottom line is that Senate Bill 50 won’t allow industrial hemp to be grown or sold unless and until the federal government takes the very big step of legalizing the crop in some way. If that happens, we will have time to work with the legislature and law enforcement to make any further changes necessary to ensure the public’s safety and alleviate those concerns,” he said in an official statement.  “Therefore, I am allowing SB50 to become law without my signature.”

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.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, both of Kentucky, in February joined Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden in introducing legislation to allow American farmers to cultivate and profit from industrial hemp. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 would remove federal restrictions on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp. Specifically, the bill would remove hemp from the Schedule I controlled substance list under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and would define it as a non-drug so long as it contained less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Prior to World War II, Kentucky provided 94 percent of the nation’s industrial hemp. Today the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of hemp, but it remains the only major industrialized country that bans farming the product. U.S. imports have consistently grown over the past decade – increasing by 300 percent.

Industrial hemp can  be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics, cosmetics and other merchandise.

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