Hemp farming bill clears hurdle

Panel gives unanimous approval, but future on the floor uncertain

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

Following endorsements from members of Kentucky’s federal delegation, a bill that would establish the framework for industrial hemp farming in Kentucky easily cleared a legislative panel Monday.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, wearing a shirt made from hemp fiber, and U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth and Thomas Massie joined state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer as they spoke before the Senate Committee on Agriculture in support of Senate Bill 50, which passed unanimously.

The bill would not legalize industrial hemp, but would set regulations on the crop if the federal government decriminalizes it or grants Kentucky a waiver to grow it.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture would be charged with much of the oversight in an industrial hemp program under SB 50.

Licensed farmers would have to grow at least 10 acres of hemp. Seeds would be verified at federally mandated concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC. Only permitted carriers would be able to transport hemp.

Hemp is classified as a controlled substance in the U.S. because it’s of the same plant species as marijuana, but proponents say it has economic potential and presents no risk of getting anyone high.

Comer’s pitch for SB 50 centered on jobs that could be created in the harvesting and manufacturing of industrial hemp. Leaders in auto manufacturing, seed processing, energy and other industries have expressed interest in Kentucky-grown hemp, he said.

“Almost half a billion dollars worth of hemp products are sold in the United States every year, and the hemp is grown in other countries, countries such as China and Thailand,” Comer said.

Law enforcement officials, namely Kentucky State Police and Operation UNITE, have voiced concerns with SB 50 and industrial hemp, saying the bill could allow farmers or others to plant marijuana in plain sight inside certified hemp fields. They have also questioned demand for the crop.

KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer said marijuana enforcement would suffer because hemp and marijuana are indistinguishable when grown side-by-side. Testing is the only way to confirm which plants are hemp and which are marijuana, he said.

SB 50 supporters say growing marijuana in hemp fields would weaken its potency.

Farmers would have to register with the Department of Agriculture under SB 50, risking their farms if caught growing marijuana, said former CIA Director R. James Woolsey.

“So he has to be not only uninformed about botany and perhaps high on marijuana, he has to not mind putting his livelihood at risk,” Woolsey said.

Other countries have found ways to grow hemp without facing problems enforcing marijuana laws, Paul said.

“I think there’s nothing here that’s not overcome-able,” Paul said. “If I thought this was going to allow marijuana to take off, I wouldn’t be for it … I think everybody here agrees with that.”

Paul, Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and Massie, R-Vanceburg, have supported federal efforts to legalize industrial hemp.

Massie filed legislation co-sponsored by Yarmuth earlier this month. Paul and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are backing a similar bill in the Senate.

Other states, like North Dakota, have passed similar bills establishing oversight and farming guidelines, proponents noted.

“You can’t take a wait-and-see attitude on this,” Massie said. “There’s a first-mover advantage that we can’t afford to lose.”

Paul said if industrial hemp remains illegal, he would seek a waiver from President Barack Obama’s administration allowing the crop in Kentucky.

How SB 50 will fare in the General Assembly remains to be seen. Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan Seum, R-Fairdale, said Senate Republicans would be polled this week before the bill is brought to a vote.

“We would like the sponsor of the bill to be sure that he has enough votes,” Seum said. “There will be some discussion on it, but I think it looks pretty positive.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said the issue needs further study.

Comer said an economic impact study of the crop’s potential conducted by the University of Kentucky should be ready by April.

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  • I was trying to be nice, but I guess that what I am really saying is that your and Commissar Brewer's arguments are extremely weak and misinformed. On a public forum like this, you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Neither is he, although as a career police officer, he can be excused since he has been brainwashed with this Partnership for a Drug Free America stuff for years. In times of war, it is important to demonize your enemy so that when you destroy them, you have a chance to sleep with yourself at night. The KSP has certainly destroyed enough lives over marijuana, and they aren't through yet. It is a classic case of the cure being much worse than the disease, and the doctors are untrained and don't have any idea what they are doing. Forgive them Father... ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... In fact, I have since learned that Brewer was making the old gateway drug argument during that show...which has been debunked for 30 years. There is such a thing as having too open of a mind, if you know what I mean. So far, you haven't refuted anything that any of the proponents have offered or what I have said. But thanks for being civil about it...it is more than most on here do.

  • You keep insisting that I haven't thought this through, but I certainly have. Just because I do not think the way you do does not mean that I have researched this any less than you have. I'm just trying to keep an open mind and hope you will do the same. And I thank you for the intelligent and civil discussion.

  • vpopera, thanks for your reply. I obviously didn't see KET's KY Tonight, as I am sure that I would have found it to be entertaining, if not informative. Regarding Mr. Comer's alleged comments that Commissioner Brewer "had to correct", where is the data that says that most marijuana grown in Kentucky ISN'T grown indoors? Is there any? Certainly, all anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest to the contrary. ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Anyone who has been paying attention and reading newspapers knows that the successes of the KSP's helicopter marijuana eradication task force has driven nearly all growers indoors. A couple of years ago, there were stories (with photos) in this and other state newspapers every week from the 4th of July until the first freeze about the successful raids of outdoor pot plots, big and small. There haven't been ANY such stories since...although we now read about the successful raids of so-called "highly sophisticated hydroponic grow rooms" in basements, rental housing, etc. How can you account for this? What makes you say that you think that Commissioner Brewer was correct in his refutations of Mr. Comer? Mr. Comer was probably following Rule No. 1: Never argue with a policeman (with a gun). ...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... In fact, Commissioner Brewer's suggestion that "if the hemp could be cultivated to make it a different color that would allow it to stand out from the marijuana crops" is an indication of his lack of command of the "facts". Any agronomist will tell you that if it were that easy to change hemp's color (what would Brewer like...something in a nice chartreuse?) that those who have been genetically modifying pot seeds in Amsterdam and in greenhouses in Colombia for the last 40 years would have figured that out long ago to avoid detection from the air. And even if farmers could change the color of hemp what would keep the marijuana growers for doing the same to avoid detection? ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ It sounds like the comments on KY Tonight made by Commissioner Brewer were about as "thorough in facts and solutions" as the malarkey he was dishing out in the legislative subcommittee, but hey, like I said he's no expert. I am not saying that Mr. Comer is an expert on this subject either, but at least he is in his own field of expertise. .......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... I am STILL curious as to how the "concerns of law enforcement" can be "addressed" to make this a "win-win for Kentucky"? What else but defeating the measure would satisfy the police, since that is the only thing that they are proposing? I still contend that the police's position is intractable and that meeting their "concerns" ("win") would be the death knell for commercial hemp production and a big loss for the economic benefits it would bring to the state. ...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... vpopera, it still doesn't seem that you have thought this through very thoroughly, but it seems that you are in good company with Commissioner Brewer right in there with you. Thanks for commenting though. I await your answer to my simple question.

  • anon1713, my comments about Comer were based on KET's KY Tonight. Comer stated "most marijuana is grown indoors" and made several other comments that Brewer had to correct. I think law enforcement may be satisfied (and as much said so on KY Tonight)if the hemp could be cultivated to have a different color that would allow it to stand out from the marijuana crops. There were other suggestions made by Brewer. It was a good discussion. The testimony before the legislative committee was not nearly as thorough in facts or solutions.

  • vpopera, might I offer a slight rebuttal? One can disagree on whether Commissioner Brewer has "done his homework" on whether a "potent hash oil COULD (emphasis added) be extracted from hemp's leaves and stems", but really it is irrelevant to this issue. This information is readily available to anyone (including farmers) who researches it, so it does not require much home work. To address the Commissioner's comment head on, realistically there is so little of the active ingredient THC in hemp to make such an endeavor economically unfeasible. It would take vast amounts of hemp to make a very small amount of hash oil or anything else with psychoactive properties. To extend the good Commissioner's logic here, there actually is water in the Sahara Desert too, but extracting enough of it to keep you alive would be highly problematic. ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ What "unsubstantiated facts" did Mr. Comer give in his testimony? Or for that matter, the testimony of any other proponent who was there? Do you have any substantive disagreement with what I said in my post below, or anything else that was presented (other than whether the Commissioner did his homework on the hash oil comment)? .................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... I am also curious how the "concerns of law enforcement" can be "addressed" to make this a "win-win for Kentucky"? What else but defeating the measure would satisfy the police, since that is the only thing that they are proposing? I contend that the police's position is intractable and that meeting their "concerns" ("win") would be the death knell for commercial hemp production and a big loss for the economic benefits it would bring to the state. vpopera, I doesn't seem that you have thought this through very thoroughly, but I await your response just the same.

  • Respectfully disagree with anon1713.....Brewer has done his homework, and Comer shoots from the hip many times with unsubstantiated facts. Economic benefits are good, but I think we need to respect the concerns of law enforcement on this one. Hopefully, they can amend current legislation to address all concerns and this can be a win-win for Kentucky.

  • State police oppose the bill and its commissioner, Rodney Brewer, has expressed concerns about law enforcement being able to distinguish between hemp and its cousin, marijuana. "Brewer said potent hash oil could be extracted from hemp’s leaves and stems" ......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... How the heck does Mr. Brewer know that as he certainly is not an expert. What do they expect the police position to be, as they have a vested interest in keeping hemp and its cousins illegal? The police get huge grants from the DEA (who are also the drug police) for their eradication efforts, and that loss to their budgets would be significant if hemp were legalized as a commercial crop. The fact is that they can count wild hemp plants as the same as marijuana when they turn in the "body count" to justify their grant requests. There used to be considerable wild patches of hemp in western Franklin and Shelby County...a fact that wasn't lost on the local constabulary every fall. ..................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... So, given the police's worst case scenario, what if they couldn't easily distinguish hemp from marijuana? What calamity would arise in that case? The worst is that it would just bring our backward state into basic compliance with the 18 other states that have decriminalized medical and recreational marijuana. All H-E-double hockey sticks hasn't broke out in those other states as the police there had predicted. ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................. As it turns out, the police aren't very good at predicting such things at all because they have a conflict of interests here, and let's face it, they really aren't drug experts, or for that matter, agricultural experts either. The are experts at ferreting out those who use marijuana in and arresting and imprisoning them, but little else. And if you look at our incarceration rates per capita, which are the highest in the world, they do a bang up job at that. ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ I would hope that the rest of our legislators keep that in mind as they consider the economic benefits to our farmers and industry of growing hemp. At least the committee that passed it on seem to be getting the message from the people. The police should NOT be setting what our laws say and what our official policy condones...that is for the people and its elected representatives to decide. The police are only supposed to enforce the laws that the people determine are necessary to maintain order in our society...anything else is nothing but a police state. Mr. Brewer is speaking out of school here.