LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- With the burgeoning effort to resurrect Kentucky's hemp industry facing an uncertain fate in the General Assembly, a new poll indicates an overwhelming majority of Kentucky voters, 65 percent, believe hemp's potential for job creation trumps concerns it would complicate drug enforcement.
"If the government will get out of our way, the private sector will create jobs in a new market for farmers," Agriculture Commissioner James Comer (R-Kentucky) told WHAS11 News.
The Harper Polling survey of 850 likely voters was conducted February 11-12 and was commissioned by RunSwitch Public Relations of Louisville. It has a stated margin of error of +/- 3.36 percent.
65 percent of poll respondents agreed with the opinion that hemp would create jobs. 19 percent said that hemp's resemblance to marijuana would undermine police efforts. And, 16 percent agreed with the statement that the issue needs more study.
"The people of Kentucky want to take a chance to try to do
something to create jobs," Comer said. "They don't want to study the issue and kick the can the down the road."
"The number one issue is to create jobs," Comer said.
Senate Bill 50, which would set up a framework for licensing, registering and regulating hemp farmers, was unanimously approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Monday despite concerns voiced by Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer.
Comer said he is "excited and hopeful" that the Senate will pass SB50 this week.
"I will be shocked if the Senate does not vote on this bill before Friday," Comer told WHAS11.
Yet the Senate vote is just the second of five steps needed to make the hemp bill, law. The House Agriculture and Small Business Committee and full House would still need to consider it before Governor Steve Beshear decides whether to affix his signature.
Last week, House Speaker Greg Stumbo expressed skepticism of claims that hemp would create a significant number of jobs.
"I don't think that a leap of faith based upon what somebody believes might happen - even though they may or may not be somewhat in public office - is worth doing something that our law enforcement community has such strenuous objections to," Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) said.
Stumbo and the sponsor of the House's hemp licensing bill, Rep. Terry Mills (D-Lebanon), have both said the effort could withstand a year of study, an unacceptable delay to Comer and other hemp supporters.
"I've asked Rep. Mills to not even call his bill for a vote," Comer said. "His bill puts testing under direction under state police."
"SB 50 is the only bill that we can support," Comer said.
"If the Senate will pass SB 50 this week, it will send a message to the House," Comer said. "I think the House has to vote on it."
Hemp proponents now also have another message to carry with them, the poll which reflects Kentuckians believe hemp will lead to jobs.
On the issue of legalizing hemp production in Kentucky, which of the following comes closest to your opinion: The production of industrial hemp, which is not a drug, would create jobs, or legalizing hemp hurts police efforts to stop marijuana growing, as the two plants are difficult to tell apart?
Hemp creates jobs 65%
Hemp hurts efforts to stop marijuana 19%
The issue should be studied further 16%