FRANKFORT — It may be a difficult road toward getting Kentucky legislators to approve a legal framework that would repeal the ban on industrial hemp production, but Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is not giving up.
The House Agriculture and Small Business Committee passed a bill Wednesday that could pave the way for approved farmers throughout the state to eventually grow industrial hemp.
Rand Paul have been major supporters of the effort.
“Kentuckians have said very clearly that they want jobs, and industrial hemp has the potential to create many jobs in this state,” Comer said. “I’m thankful to my former colleagues on the House Ag Committee for listening to their constituents, and I urge House leadership to move this bill to the floor for a vote as soon as possible.”
The commissioner said he had a “very positive” meeting with House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins on Friday to discuss the issue.
"(Adkins) understands how important industrial hemp could be for his district and for all of Kentucky,” Comer said. “I am hopeful that we will be able to work together to get a vote on Senate Bill 50 on the House floor, and if we get a vote, I am confident the bill will pass."
State Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, is a lifelong farmer and a member of the agricultural committee.
He said some people have developed misconceptions about Senate Bill 50; the bill would allow qualified Kentuckians to quickly become legal growers of industrial hemp if the federal government repeals the current ban on the crop.
Kentucky State Police officials are concerned that industrial hemp, used in a number of legal products such as textiles and soaps, looks too much like marijuana and will make their drug enforcement efforts much more difficult.
“(Senate Bill 50) makes it where Kentucky lawmakers rather than Washington bureaucrats would make decisions for Kentucky farmers,” Shell said.
Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Boyle, acknowledged that he was “squeamish” at first about the idea of legalizing industrial hemp. Hemp has a minimal amount of THC, the substance that gets people “high” from smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana.
“But once I did my research and learned that Boyle was a major grower of industrial hemp in past generations, I have been supportive of this opportunity to help farmers earn a better living,” Harmon said.
Kentucky State Police administrators and other law enforcement officers throughout the state have expressed opposition to Senate Bill 50.
However, not all law enforcement leaders are entirely opposed to industrial hemp. Lancaster Police Chief Rodney Kidd said in a recent interview that he is open-minded about the issue especially if legislators really can come up with a way to keep industrial hemp away from illegal marijuana.
Garrard County Sheriff Ronnie Wardrip said he would like to see more information about how much money farmers would need to spend to get involved in industrial hemp production.
He believes with the proper laws, keeping industrial hemp and ingestible marijuana separate would not be difficult.
Both Shell and Wardrip said many farmers in Lancaster and beyond are financially “hurting” and that industrial hemp production could give a long-awaited boost to the local economy.