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Death Knell Likely for Hemp

Posted on March 30, 2000

By John Cheves, The Lexington Herald-Leader

Frankfort, Kentucky — Industrial hemp will be grown and studied in several states during the next two years, but probably not in Kentucky.

After intensive lobbying and the endorsement of four former Kentucky governors, a bill that would allow a state university to grow hemp and study its agricultural potential seems to have perished.

Yesterday was the 58th day of the 60-day General Assembly. Any bill still awaiting a floor vote when the clock struck midnight was generally considered finished for at least another two years.

The hemp bill, House Bill 855, never reached the Senate floor for the vote it needed. Senate President David Williams, who kept the bill in a committee, said many people have expressed concern about industrial hemp’s similarity to marijuana, including the Kentucky State Police.

“We’re not going to be legalizing hemp, so there’s no point in considering legislation like this, at least this session,” Williams, R-Burkesville, said yesterday.

Advocates of industrial hemp, who spent many hours at the Capitol trying to convince lawmakers of the crop’s value to farmers, said they were bitterly disappointed to fall just one step short of the governor’s desk. The bill’s sponsors said they had the votes for approval in the Senate.

“I don’t understand why we allow one man to have so much power to prevent Kentucky farmers from having a chance to help themselves. It’s no way to run a democracy,” said Andy Graves, president of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association.

No bill is truly dead until the legislature goes home. Bills can be resurrected through “bizarre” suspensions of the rules, or attached to successful bills as amendments. But more than likely, it’s time to say goodbye and shovel dirt on the bill awaiting a Senate floor.

Bills fail on the House or Senate floor for different reasons. Some simply don’t find their space in the growing backlog of legislation, especially during the rushed final days of the legislature. Others are “targeted for death” by powerful floor leaders, who usually get to decide which bills are posted for a vote.

Williams, the new Republican Senate President, agreed yesterday he “blocked” the industrial hemp bill, with which he disagrees. He called it “structural discipline.” “But the House does the same with some bills filed by Republicans,” he said.

Copyright © 2000, The Lexington Herald-Leader. All rights reserved.