A Kentucky bill, assigned to the House Agriculture Committee this week, aims to remove a ban on the sale of combustible hemp products, including hemp cigarettes and cigars.
Hemp industry advocates say the bill would give a boost to the struggling hemp industry, but state law enforcement asserts the bill could create significant logistical problems in differentiating legal hemp from illegal marijuana.
Bill co-sponsor State Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth, said the legislation originated from a meeting he had with a cigarette manufacturer in Harrison County that brought up the issue. Hart said removing the ban would give more market opportunities for hemp farmers and hemp retailers alike.
“Everybody is growing this hemp, and they don’t seem to have an avenue or a way to market it, sell it and make money off of it,” Hart said. “And when you see other states doing some of the stuff, and their hemp farmers are surviving and thriving, I want Kentucky hemp farmers to have the same opportunity.”
State law currently bans the sale of raw hemp flower, grounded hemp material, and combustible hemp products to consumers. The state requires licensed processors to process hemp into refined products like CBD oil, yet much of the Kentucky hemp grown the past year has been sitting idle because of an oversupply of the crop. Neighboring states, including Tennessee and Indiana, allow for the sale of combustible hemp products.
Yet leaders representing state law enforcement believe the removal of the ban could create issues for officers in determining the difference between legal hemp and illegal marijuana.
“We still have a problem with people calling in on it. We still have a problem with our canine units. I mean, it just creates a logistical nightmare to identify,” said Jerry Wagner, Executive Director for the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association. “We can’t do it.”
Wagner said he worked with State Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, in making sure a medical marijuana bill didn’t allow for the marijuana plant to be smoked. He also said he would be willing to meet with the hemp bill proponents, despite his opposition.
“If someone wants to meet with us and explain how this can benefit anybody other than just having something else to market a different way, I would certainly listen,” Wagner said.
Indiana’s ban on selling smokable hemp products was thrown out by a federal judge last year, saying the state couldn’t ban a certain type of hemp products because law enforcement couldn’t distinguish the products from marijuana. Plaintiffs, which included hemp wholesalers, argued Indiana’s ban violated the 2018 Farm Bill because that legislation authorized hemp in all forms.
Katie Moyer, founder of hemp processing company Kentucky Hemp Works and member of the state Industrial Hemp Advisory Board, said she believed Kentucky’s ban should be removed for similar reasoning. She also claimed the ban was ineffective because illegal hemp products were already being sold in the state.
“The attempt to try to keep people from trying to smoke hemp has failed miserably. [Illegal hemp products] are being sold in gas stations and corner stores from Fulton County to Pike County,” Moyer said. “We just need to let our farmers get in on that part of the industry.”
Moyer said retailers that are following the law by not selling illegal products like hemp cigarettes are therefore losing out on revenue.
Kentucky Hemp Industries Association President Tate Hall said he believes solutions can be found to potentially remove the ban. Hall pointed to law enforcement in Virginia trying out a new field test kit to tell the difference between hemp and marijauna.
“So I think making awareness that there are solutions is a big thing,” Hall said. “We’re aware of that law enforcement position, but you have to be open to assessing those problems.”