Hemp fever? Senate approves hemp farming, Beshear unconvinced

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by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on February 15, 2013 at 12:31 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 15 at 12:42 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- Hemp fever reached a crescendo in Frankfort on Thursday, but the issue's winning streak appears in jeopardy as the capitol's two top Democrats are not on board.

Governor Steve Beshear is echoing House Speaker Greg Stumbo's discomfort with Senate Bill 50, legislation that would set up the framework to license and regulate industrial hemp farming in Kentucky.

"Unfortunately, it looks like politics is entering into this," said Agriculture Commissioner James Comer (R), "That's what's wrong with Frankfort.  That's why we're not growing at the same rate as surrounding states."

Hours after a new poll showed Kentucky voters' confidence in hemp's potential for job creation, and hours before the Kentucky Senate overwhelmingly approved SB50, Beshear (D) made clear he is not caught up in hemp momentum.

"In theory, I think we can all be for another agricultural product that might be good for the farmers of this state," Beshear said, unconvinced of hemp's potential value to Kentucky.

Industrial hemp can be used to make a variety of products, including food, fiber and fuel. 

"Number one, we really don't know if there is going to be a market for it, yet," Beshear told WHAS11, "I understand that Canada has been doing this for about ten or twelve years. The government subsidizes it, which I'm not sure I want to get into in Kentucky.  And it's developed into about a ten million dollar crop and, that's it.  So, we may be yelling about a lot of things very loudly that really don't mean too much right now."

"No one can ever prove how many jobs something is going to create," countered Agriculture Commissioner James Comer (R).  "We have three companies right now willing to come into Kentucky, make an investment, hire people and sign contracts with farmers.  That's probably more than they have on the table."

Meanwhile, Vote Hemp, a national hemp advocacy group, clarified that farmers in Canada do not receive crop government subsidies for growing hemp, yet hemp trade groups and processors have received some government assistance.

"The other concern is law enforcement concerns," Beshear added.  "And I have concerns.  We've got a big drug problem in Kentucky and I just want to make sure we don't do anything that will make that problem even worse."

Because the hemp plant resembles marijuana, its cultivation is banned in the Unites States, yet several states have recently allowed hemp farming to resume.

Industrial hemp contains only a trace amount of the ingredient that gives marijuana users a high.  Federal legislation introduced on Thursday 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), according to Sen. Mitch McConnell's office.  The bill's sponsors include McConnell (R-Kentucky) and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

In an interview at his Frankfort office, Comer encouraged Beshear and Stumbo to focus on pension and tax reform and "I'll handle the agriculture problems."

"Let it be voted on," Comer said.  "If it fails, it fails.  But, I'm pretty confident the votes are there and look forward to seeing the outcome of this bill."

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.

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%


FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- The comeback of industrial hemp in Kentucky has gained ground with state Senate passage of a bill to regulate the crop if the current federal ban is lifted.
 
The bill cleared the Senate on a 31-6 vote Thursday.
 
It now heads to the House, where its prospects are much less certain.
 
Industrial hemp once thrived in Kentucky, but the crop has been banned for decades since the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.

Hemp supporters say its reemergence can help farmers and create jobs turning its seeds and fiber into products.
 
Opponents doubt hemp's economic potential and worry it will complicate marijuana eradication efforts.
 
State Sen. Chris Girdler Pulaski County, who opposed the bill, compared growing hemp to growing the novelty plants known as Chia Pets.
 

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