Kentucky: Hemp Production Moves Closer To Reality

Hemp=Jobs

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Staff members have been instructed to begin the process of writing rules for the development of the long-banned industrial hemp crop in Kentucky, according to a news release from the state Department of Agriculture.

The state's industrial hemp commission is calling on GOP Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul to write a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice to "make Kentucky's intentions known," reports Jonathan Meador at WFPL.

Paul and Comer are hoping for clarity from the feds on the current legality of growing a hemp crop in Kentucky. The issue remains murky in the wake of a a DOJ memo released last month by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. According to that August 30 memo, the federal government "will respect" state marijuana laws, which advocates believe includes the legalization of industrial hemp production.

Sen. Paul intends "to be a part of correspondence with the Department of Justice," according to a spokesperson, and he "supports the work of the Hemp Commission and supports Commissioner Comer's efforts to move forward with the reintroduction of industrial hemp in Kentucky."

Paul has donated $25,000 to the Hemp Commission through his RandPAC, reports Kevin Wheatley at the State-Journal. The commission had been operating primarily on a $50,000 contribution from David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which was received less than a week after the commission's first meeting.

Comer had sent a previous letter to the DOJ earlier this year urging the federal government to lift its prohibition on hemp. That letter was signed by many prominent Kentucky politicians, including Sen. Paul, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth and Republican Rep. Thomas Massie.

The letter was ignored.

"Seven out of eight of our federal delegation, they never got a response from DOJ," Comer said. "So we're going to try Plan B. We're just going to send them a letter saying, 'OK, this is what we're going to do, unless you tell us otherwise.'"

The Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 50 in the 2013 regular session; it allows the creation of a regulatory framework for Kentucky hemp production should the federal government lift its ban on cultivation.

According to Holly Harris, Comer's chief of staff, because Senate Bill 50 separates the legal definition of hemp from that of marijuana, then hemp is legal at the state level in Kentucky. She said Deputy Attorney General Cole's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week -- that the DOJ will not prosecute hemp farmers in states where the crop is legal -- further legitimizes the Hemp Commission's plans to go forward with the permitting process.

Paul and Comer plan to draft their letter "soon," according to Harris. The letter will be the latest bid by Comer to lobby the feds to allow the growing of hemp for industrial and research purposes.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in July released a study which estimated the potential domestic market for hemp production to be $500 million a year.

(Photo: The Rural Blog