Kentucky: Hemp Bill Passes In Final Hour

(Photo: Steve Elliott
Hemp News

An amended bill to legalize industrial hemp production by Kentucky farmers -- if the federal government allows it -- was passed by the Kentucky Legislature in the final minutes of this year's regular session.

The Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission remains in the state Department of Agriculture, with only research functions of the bill assigned to the University of Kentucky, according to the terms of the compromise, reports Gregory A. Hall at the Louisville Courier-Journal. The last point of contention had been a try by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) to put the Hemp Commission under the authority of the University.

That had proven to be a deal breaker for bill sponsor Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) and its chief backer, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

In fact, Comer had left the Capitol under the impression the hemp bill was dead. He returned late Tuesday when he learned Adkins wanted to continue the talks.

"We're very satisfied with the bill," Comer said. The next step, according to Comer, will be working with Kentucky's federal lawmakers to get a DEA waiver for a pilot project to grow industrial hemp in the state.

Public pressure to pass the hemp bill helped achieve the last-minute deal, according to Comer.

The bill passed the House as amended, 88-4, with Comer, a former House member, watching from the chamber floor. The Senate approved the compromise 35-1.

The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear, who has said he "shares the concerns" of the Kentucky State Police, who oppose it. Beshear hasn't said whether he would veto the hemp bill.

State Police and some House leaders, including Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) questioned whether hemp would be economically viable and whether it would impact marijuana enforcement, since the plants look the same.

Comer agreed in the compromise to be removed as chairman of the hemp commission. He will now be vice chairman, and the chairman will be selected by members.

Federal law considers hemp identical to marijuana, even though industrial hemp typically contains very low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Industrial hemp often measures below 0.3 percent THC, while marijuana typically measures between 5 and 22 percent.