FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- The momentum for the Kentucky hemp effort hit a snag on Tuesday with House Speaker Greg Stumbo saying not enough is known about the issue to make any quick decisions and lambasting "misguided senators" for endorsing a bill to license farmers to grow hemp.
"It's pretty obvious that there's a lot of unanswered questions," Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) said, "particularly about the marketability."
A campaign pledge of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, the hemp idea has steadily gained supporters and resurrected Kentucky's Industrial Hemp Commission. Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) would establish a framework to be used if the federal government grants a waiver of its ban on hemp cultivation.
Several key law enforcement leaders, including Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer, have rejected the proposal out of concerns that production of hemp - a cousin of marijuana - would impair drug eradication efforts.
In an impromptu question and answer session with reporters, Stumbo said he has consulted with House Agriculture Committee Chairman McKee who also believes the issue needs more study.
"Canadian hemp is flooding the market," Stumbo said, "so this rush to judgment is not conducive to good policy. We need to study it. We need to make sure that there is a market."
Despite the federal ban on hemp cultivation in the United States, hemp is legally imported from other countries for use in a variety of products such as food, fiber and fuel.
Advocates suggest Kentucky, which led the nation in hemp production in the mid 19th century, is ideally suited to grow it again, especially on relatively small tobacco fields.
Comer has said that it is imperative for Kentucky to act quickly to corner the market before other states do.
SB 50 is expected to be discussed at a February 11 hearing. Among the scheduled witnesses, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), U.S. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky 3rd) and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky 4th). Last week, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) also added his endorsement of the bill.
"I'm not going to rush out just because a couple of senators - misguided senators - and congressional leaders think that it's a good idea," Stumbo said. "We're not going to do that. We're not going to make that mistake."
The hemp group has commissioned the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture to conduct an economic impact study.
Stumbo cited a Legislative Research Commission report which estimated between 100-700 jobs may be created by hemp production in Kentucky.
"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 said.