A bill that would establish the regulatory framework for industrial hemp farming in Kentucky will get a hearing in the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee next week, the panel’s chairman said Tuesday.
But there are no assurances the committee will vote on Senate Bill 50, which cleared the Senate by a wide margin last week.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who is leading the push for industrial hemp in Kentucky, met Tuesday with Rep. Tom McKee, a Cynthiana Democrat who chairs the House agriculture committee.
McKee said he discussed a number of concerns expressed by state representatives on issues surrounding SB 50, such as the potential market for industrial hemp and costs associated with testing tetrahydrocannabinol levels.
“I think we want to know those answers,” McKee said.
SB 50 would not legalize industrial hemp growth, but instead set regulations on hemp production should the federal government legalize the crop or grant Kentucky a waiver to grow it.
The state Department of Agriculture would be charged with regulating industrial hemp farming under SB 50, including testing samples and registering hemp fields.
The legislation has not yet been posted to McKee’s committee, but he said he plans to hear the bill Feb. 27. The bill may be amended, but he declined to discuss specifics.
“At this point, we don’t know for sure there’ll be a committee sub, and we don’t even know for sure there’ll be a vote on the bill,” McKee said.
Comer, a former House member, said he’s confident SB 50 would not only pass the agriculture committee, but also the full House if brought to a vote.
He has informally tallied more than 60 votes in favor of the legislation in the House, he said.
“There aren’t very many issues that have a chance at passing this session,” Comer said Monday. “This is one that does.”
Comer said he plans to meet with House Speaker Greg Stumbo this week and bring representatives from auto parts suppliers to vouch for hemp’s viability in the automotive industry.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said the industrial hemp issue needs to be vetted, including studying its economic demand.
Comer, who has said an economic impact study by the University of Kentucky should be ready by April, said Kentucky should not wait for the completion of the report.
U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, and Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, and U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg, are backing efforts to legalize industrial hemp, which was banned because its of the same plant species as marijuana.
Kentucky congressmen have said they’ll seek a waiver from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency if federal legislation is unsuccessful.
“I think this crop will be grown in the United States at the beginning of the planting season next year, and if we don’t have the regulatory framework set up, we’re not going to get a waiver to do a pilot project,” Comer said.
“In order for us to grow this crop next year, we have to pass Senate Bill 50.”
McKee also sees the federal government allowing industrial hemp farming in the future, but he doubts any action will be taken in the next year.