The Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission voted to move forward with writing regulations for a hemp farming permit program Thursday, as Attorney General Jack Conway considers the impact of a U.S. Department of Justice memo on recreational marijuana.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture will begin drafting the new regulations on industrial hemp licensing after the Department of Justice issued a memo stating the agency would not prosecute states that regulate and tax the sale of marijuana with some exceptions, such as restricting out-of-state sale of the drug and keeping revenue out of the hands of cartels and gangs.
Department of Agriculture officials see the memo as a green light for hemp farming in Kentucky after Senate Bill 50 passed the General Assembly earlier this year and established a regulatory framework for hemp cultivation.
“I’m confident that the regulations that are developed in Kentucky for the oversight of industrial hemp will be strongly enforced, and I’m confident that whatever regs are developed will pass muster,” said Luke Morgan, a contracted attorney with the Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul will co-sign a letter to the Department of Justice, letting the agency know of Kentucky’s plans to farm industrial hemp.
But Maj. Anthony Terry with Kentucky State Police, a member of the hemp commission, said the Department of Justice memo does not change federal and state laws regarding cannabis.
Allison Martin, Conway’s spokeswoman, said
Conway is reviewing the memo and will issue an advisory letter on its effect in Kentucky within the next few weeks.
After the meeting, Comer said he was surprised to hear of the attorney general’s upcoming opinion on the Department of Justice memo. He said he has not spoken with anyone from the attorney general’s office on the matter, but he’s hopeful Conway will “treat this issue fairly and help to move this industry forward.”
“We have an open door policy to anyone, and we would look forward to having discussions with anyone in the attorney general’s office,” Comer said. “We had no idea that they were even debating or contemplating any type of ruling until the state police mentioned that today.”
Holly Harris, Comer’s chief of staff, said Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole has made clear that properly regulated industrial hemp programs would not be prosecuted by the federal government.
She said SB 50 made hemp legal in Kentucky, though the botanical cousin to marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
“The attorney general’s opinion is just that — it’s another lawyer’s opinion,” Morgan said. “We’re hopeful that he sees it in the way that the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency have seen this.”
Martin said Conway’s opinion is paramount to the issue of whether the Department of Justice memo clears the path for industrial hemp farming across the state.
“The attorney general is the attorney general of Kentucky, and it falls to him to interpret how that affects Kentucky’s law,” she said.
Comer said he expects the hemp licensing regulations will easily move through the approval process given the support industrial hemp received in the General Assembly. The plant could be in the ground by April, when the next planting season begins.
The crop probably will not surpass staples such as corn, tobacco and soybeans, but industrial hemp will provide new opportunities for Kentucky farmers, Comer said. During the meeting, Comer noted a number of representatives from various industries — including equine, poultry and automotive — have contacted him with interest in hemp products.
“I think that this is a very exciting first step, and we’ll just have to see,” Comer said. “History will decide whether this was a defining moment in Kentucky agriculture or not.”