Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s plan to regulate production of industrial hemp — should the federal government allow it — was rejuvenated Monday when the House agriculture committee chairman said he expects his committee “easily” will approve Senate Bill 50 on Wednesday.
But the bill’s future beyond that remained in question after Speaker Greg Stumbo did not commit to having the bill called for a vote by the full House if it passes committee.
“I’m not for the bill,” Stumbo said. “But I don’t think we need it.”
SB 50 would require industrial hemp growers to obtain an annual license from the state agriculture department besides other regulatory requirements.
Stumbo sent a letter Monday requesting an opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway about whether an existing law that says Kentucky’s hemp policy will mirror the federal government’s is sufficient if the federal government allows production of hemp, which currently is classified alongside its higher THC relative marijuana.
“Kentucky has no need for additional state bureaucracy involving permits issued by a state Hemp Czar,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, wrote in his letter.
Comer and other supporters — including most of the state’s federal congressional delegation — argue that passing the regulatory setup would position Kentucky to be among the first states to produce hemp, bringing jobs with the processing plants that would be needed to prepare hemp for manufacturers.
Stumbo is skeptical that the risk of complicating marijuana enforcement is worth the jobs hemp production could bring to the state. Those concerns have been raised by the Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement groups.
Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, adjourned a meeting last week after two hours of testimony without taking a vote. He previously wanted his committee to approve substitute language that would have replaced the bill’s regulatory provisions with field trials by the University of Kentucky.
Citing Comer’s claims that hemp will lead to Kentucky jobs, McKee said Monday, “we don’t want to be in the way of that.”
Comer said he isn’t worried that the bill could be bottled up after it passes committee, citing widespread interest in the measure. He said he was asked about it over the weekend at his daughter’s cheerleading competition in Lexington.
“Everyone in Kentucky is watching this bill,” he said.
U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have proposed federal legislation that would distinguish hemp from marijuana, clearing the way for cultivation.
Hemp looks like marijuana and typically contains less than 0.3 percent THC — the active ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana’s THC content is between 3 percent and 15 percent. But both are classified the same under federal drug policy.
The latest Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll found that 65 percent of Kentuckians favor legalizing hemp for industrial uses, compared to 22 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure. The poll had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.
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