(AP) — Citing Kentucky's struggles with drug abuse, Gov. Steve Beshear called Tuesday for lawmakers to be cautious about a push to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky.
"I want them to resolve any law enforcement concerns before moving ahead," Beshear told reporters on Tuesday.
Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement agencies have said hemp fields would be ideal places for marijuana growers to hide their illegal crops, given that the leaves of the plants are identical.
Kentucky Republican leaders have been pushing legislation to license and regulate hemp so that it could be grown if the federal government were to lift a longstanding ban.
Beshear is only the latest state Democratic leader to voice concerns about an industrial hemp bill that passed the Republican-led Senate last week. House Speaker Greg Stumbo did the same last week.
Stumbo and other lawmakers from the state's mountain region, where most of Kentucky's illegal marijuana crop is grown, have been especially skeptical of the hemp proposal.
Kentucky has an ideal climate for hemp production and, during World War II, was a leading grower of the plant that produces strong fibers that were used in fabrics, ropes and other materials for the military. A growing number of political leaders have been calling for federal restrictions to be lifted, including Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.
Comer said lifting the ban on hemp would give Kentucky farmers another viable crop and would create processing and manufacturing jobs with companies that would turn the plant into a variety of products, including paper, clothing, auto parts, biofuels, food and lotions.
Stumbo said Comer hasn't produced any evidence to support his contention about jobs.
Republican U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul introduced legislation last week that would remove hemp from the list of controlled substances under federal law. The issue has Democratic supporters in Kentucky, including U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, a co-sponsor on legislation in the U.S. House seeking to allow commercial hemp production.