Kentucky House May Choke on Hemp Bill

Monday, February 18th, 2013

“It won’t make us high, but it can certainly make us happy.” That’s how a Lexington Democrat characterized the highly-publicized industrial hemp bill during the Senate floor debate on Senate Bill 50 last week.

Senate Ag committee chairman Paul Hornback, himself a farmer, is the sponsor of the bill that doesn’t legalize hemp in Kentucky, since it’s currently outlawed by the federal government, but it sets up a regulatory framework in case Congress legalizes it or Kentucky is granted a federal waiver to grow it.

The Commissioner of Kentucky State Police, Rodney Brewer, vented his objections to the measure in committee last week. The KSP fear that hemp harvesting will complicate marijuana eradication efforts if growers try to disguise the weed in their legal hemp plots. And, they question whether the economic viability of hemp is worth the risk. On the Senate floor last Thursday, Senator Hornback agreed that industrial hemp may not be a cash cow, but, he claimed, it is a crop worth trying.

If the hemp plan becomes law, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s office will certify that hemp seed is below the appropriate THC level; administer background checks and license growers; provide GPS mapping of industrial hemp production to law enforcement; inspect the crops; and conduct testing when necessary.

Senator Kathy Stein of Lexington spoke on how hemp came to be misunderstood and misclassified decades ago.

Freshman Chris Girdler of Pulaski County, lives in the home district of U.S. Representative Hal Rogers. Rogers is against the bill because the federal dollars granted for efforts to rid his fifth congressional district of illegal and prescription drug abuse might be compromised if hemp is allowed. During the roll call vote, Girdler became the first to vote ‘no’ after characterizing hemp as a distracting non-issue amid more worrisome woes.

Hornback’s Senate Bill 50 cleared the Kentucky Senate on a vote of 31 to 6. Senate President Robert Stivers of Clay County in eastern Kentucky did not cast a vote. The measure faces a bleak future in the Kentucky House as the House Speaker Greg Stumbo is on record as being skeptical of hemp’s economic benefits. Senate Bill 50 now awaits action by the House Ag Committee.

Tomorrow, I’ll have the latest on telecom deregulation, school dropout legislation and human trafficking measures that passed last week. Bill Goodman and panelists will discuss the telecom bill on tonight on “Kentucky Tonight” at 8pmET.

State lawmakers are off Monday in observance of President’s Day, but tune in tomorrow night at 11pm ET for “Legislative Update” for a recap of the day’s activities. Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for constant updates throughout the day.

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