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Ex-governors back hemp as crop

Posted on March 15, 2000

Spokesman: Patton still opposes “uncontrolled growing of marijuana”

By Andy Mead, The Lexington Herald-Leader

It was an unlikely setting for an unlikely event:

Four former governors gathered in the bar at The Coach House restaurant in Lexington yesterday to say they support a bill that would allow Kentucky farmers to grow hemp.

“We are of the opinion that this will not only help our farmers, but will lead to the manufacture of the many things you can make from hemp,” Louie Nunn said.

Nunn, a Republican who served from 1967 to 1971, was joined by Democrats Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt (1963-1967), Julian Carroll (1974-1979) and Brereton Jones (1991-1995).

The four ate lunch in the restaurant, then sat beside a cloth-draped drum set in the bar to endorse House Bill 855, which could come up for a vote on the House floor today.

They said they didn’t plan to contact legislators directly (“I haven’t lobbied a General Assembly since I was governor,” Breathitt said), but hoped to sway some votes through media accounts of their stand.

The four other living former governors were not there. Neither was current Gov. Paul Patton.

Two years ago, when Patton was appointing the Governor’s Commission on Family Farms, he was asked about hemp.

“I’m not for it,” he said, because it would “throw the state open to…uncontrolled growing of marijuana, and I totally oppose that.”

Patton’s position hasn’t changed, spokesman Mark Pfeiffer said yesterday.

HB 855 would require farmers to tell the government where they planned to plant their crop, allow police inspections and use only state-supplied low THC seed.

The bill was narrowly approved by the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee last week, with most who voted for it saying they did so only to get it to the floor for debate.

There it will face an amendment offered by Rep. Mark Treesh that would allow university research on hemp but wouldn’t allow farmers to grow it.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Barrows, D-Versailles, said after the committee vote that it might take more than one session for legislators to reach the “comfort level” they need to back a measure opposed by law enforcement.

A state police commander who appeared before the committee began by saying industrial hemp and marijuana are the same thing and legalizing hemp would hamper enforcement of marijuana laws.

The former governors said they had great respect for the state police, but didn’t think hemp would give them a problem.

“I think it’s natural for them to be opposed because they’re programmed to fight marijuana,” Jones said, adding that what police needed was education on the differences between hemp and marijuana. Hemp contains only a tiny amount of THC, the chemical that gives marijuana smokers a high, and is cultivated differently.

Carroll said marijuana is hidden in small patches while hemp is grown in open fields. He held up a photograph of tall, straight hemp growing in Canada and noted that it looked more like a corn field that a patch of bushy marijuana.

“If you start outlawing everything that looks like a drug, you’re going to outlaw powdered sugar because it looks like cocaine,” he said.

In response to a question, Jones said he “absolutely” would grow hemp on his Airdrie Stud farm in Woodford County if it is legalized.

And Breathitt said when he told his wife he was going to a hemp press conference, “she said please put me in for the first allotment.”

Jones recalled that when he appointed a task force to study hemp while he was governor, some legislators were afraid to serve because voters might think they were pro-marijuana.

“The four of us are not afraid…and we think it’s important to stand up for the family farm,” he said.

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