FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A proposal that could open the door to industrial hemp farming in Kentucky cleared a House committee Wednesday, but it faces a dubious future in the full chamber.
The Senate already passed the legislation to let Kentucky quickly license hemp growers should the federal government lift restrictions. But House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he doubts the bill would get a floor vote.
"It's got a lot of problems," he said.
For instance, Stumbo said, the proposal's fee on hemp growers amounts to a revenue-generating measure_and such legislation must originate in the House.
Stumbo also opposes the bill over concerns from state police and other law enforcement agencies that hemp fields could be used to camouflage marijuana plants, which have identical leaves. Gov. Steve Beshear expressed similar concerns last month.
Kentucky's Commissioner on Agriculture, who supports the bill, told reporters that public attention on the bill should push it to the House floor.
"It's going to be very difficult for the House not to let this be voted on now because we're three quarters of the way there," commissioner James Comer said. "The support is overwhelming."
The federal government currently bans growing hemp, which has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Comer has argued the crop could be an economic boon for Kentucky. Besides creating another crop for the state's farmers, Comer said hemp could lead to manufacturing jobs that produce products ranging from paper to cosmetics.
But law enforcement officials have told lawmakers that hemp and marijuana are not distinguishable without lab tests. Hemp supporters argue that marijuana growers would avoid hemp fields because cross-pollination could weaken the potency of pot. Opponents said that cross-pollination could just as easily strengthen the potency of hemp.
The House Agriculture and Small Business Committee voted 24-1 to approve the bill.
Committee Chairman Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, and others committee members said lawmakers should continue to consider law enforcement concerns as the bill moves forward.
"Secondly, my 'yes' vote is for jobs," McKee said. "This is a jobs bill and is the only jobs bill in this session."
Last week, the committee failed to bring the bill to a vote. McKee had proposed rewriting the legislation. He wanted the bill to allow a university-led study of hemp, which thrived in Kentucky generations ago before the federal government classified it as a controlled substance.
Since last week's committee meeting, hemp supporters ratcheted up political pressure for a committee vote on the bill.
The legislation is Senate Bill 50.