Hemp Bill Passes: Crop Gains Headway in Kentucky
Industrial hemp is gaining momentum in the political mainstream in Kentucky, according to the state Senate passage of a bill to strictly regulate the crop if the federal government lifts its current ban on the one-time agricultural staple in the Bluegrass state.
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The bill would license hemp growers if the crop gains a federal reprieve. It cleared the Senate on a 31-6 vote as supporters promoted its potential to diversity Kentucky farms. As tobacco is not as commonly used today, hemp has become more popular and could create processing and manufacturing jobs in converting the plant into products that include paper, clothing, auto parts, bio fuels, food and lotions.
Sen. Paul Hornback, a tobacco farmer and the bill's lead sponsor, said he believes that Kentucky needs to be at the forefront of giving the taboo crop a chance to 'grow.'
"Give us the opportunity," Hornback said. "Put us in a position in Kentucky to give us an opportunity to see how this works. I don't think anybody knows exactly what the economic impact's going to be in Kentucky. We don't know what the economic viability is going to be."
The bill now heads to the House, where its prospects are much less certain.
"I think it'll have a little tougher time here," House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said hemp supporters haven't yet proven there's a viable market for the crop that vanished from U.S. farms decades ago.
"It's not that we're saying 'no,'" Stumbo said. "We're simply saying that the evidence doesn't show that there's enough of a market to override the concerns that the law enforcement community has."
Under the Kentucky bill, the state agriculture department would license hemp growers and production would be subject to inspection. Growers would undergo criminal background checks. A production license would be valid for one year and a grower would be limited to 10 acres for each license.
However, law enforcement skeptics, including Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer, worry that officers will be unable to detect the difference between help and marijuana without costly lab tests.