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Amended Hemp Bill Passes Kentucky Legislature; Comer OK With Result

Barbetorte, Wikimedia Commons

Kentucky lawmakers have achieved a compromise that would set up a regulatory framework should the federal government legalize industrial hemp.

The so-called hemp bill—Senate Bill 50—gives control of licensing of future hemp farmers to the Industrial Hemp Commission, but allow the Kentucky State Police to do background checks on the farmers.

The state Department of Agriculture would be given many administrative roles for licensing hemp farmers and the University of Kentucky would be charged with researching the issue.

(Read more about the hemp issue here.)

The plan was agreed upon in the final hour of the 2013 General Assembly session. House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins says it's a good compromise.

"As long as that (federal) ban is there it's an illegal crop, so we have to ask for a waiver first. And then if the ban is lifted, then farmers will be able to go ahead and grow the crop under whatever federal regulations through our framework," said Adkins, a Sandy Hook Democrat.

Industrial hemp has gained support in recent months among Kentucky's federal delegation, including Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell.

Supporters argue that industrial hemp would benefit Kentucky's economy. Opponents argue that hemp could hamper drug enforcement efforts.

Under the approved legislation, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—the leading advocate for hemp in Kentucky—would step down to vice chair of the Hemp Commission.

Regardless, Comer said he's excited to work to get a federal waiver to grow hemp immediately.

"Pretty much Senate Bill 50 in its original form passed with just a few minor changes, so I'm very excited and our next step now is to go to Washington, D.C., let Congressman Yarmuth and Senator Paul lead a delegation and, hopefully, we will be granted a waiver to do a pilot project very soon," Comer said.. 

The deal was struck in the last hour of the 2013 legislative session.

Kenny Colston is the Frankfort Bureau Chief for Kentucky Public Radio (a collaborative effort of public radio stations in Kentucky). Colston has covered Kentucky's Capitol and state government since 2010. He is a Louisville native, and a graduate of the University of Kentucky. When he's not tracking down stories about Kentucky politics, you can often find him watching college sports, particularly football.
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