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Hemp bill receives preliminary approval

Posted on March 24, 2000

But proposal might not make it to Senate floor

By Bill Estep, The Lexington Herald-Leader

Frankfort, Kentucky — Industrial-hemp research won qualified approval from a Senate committee yesterday, but could still go up in smoke.

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved House Bill 855 by a vote of 6-2, but only after removing a recommendation that the full Senate should pass the bill.

That could signal the bill faces a tough test in the full, Republican-controlled Senate.

Sen. Ed Worley, D-Richmond, noted there appears to be “great fear” of hemp among politicians.

That’s because of the association with marijuana, a major illegal crop in Kentucky.

But Worley said the legislature shouldn’t balk at researching whether hemp could help the state’s beleaguered farmers, who have seen crippling cuts in tobacco production quotas.

“Folks, agriculture’s in bad shape,” said Worley, who voted for the hemp-research bill.

Rep. Joe Barrows, D-Versailles and sponsor of HB 855, said he will go to work lining up votes in the Senate.

Barrows first proposed letting farmers grow industrial hemp, a version of the plant with a very low level of the chemical that makes people high when they smoke marijuana.

Barrows amended the bill to call only for a research program because the General Assembly wouldn’t approve growing industrial hemp wholesale, even though it was once a leading crop in the state.

The current version would require the Department of Agriculture to set up research programs at interested state universities. They would grow hemp and study the potential to market the fiber, seed and oil.

The state would need permission from the federal government for the programs.

Some other countries allow farmers to grow the crop, which can be used for a wide variety of products.

But on the first vote yesterday, the Senate committee refused to approve the bill with “favorable expression.”

Sen. Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, noting that farmers in his area were interested in hemp, then made a motion to pass the bill with no expression.

The committee did that, meaning 20 senators will have to agree to let the bill come to a vote.

Andy Graves, a hemp advocate from Fayette County, said he couldn’t fathom the reluctance to study the crop.

Kentucky State Police officers testified against the bill earlier, expressing concern that hemp production could cause more problems with pot production, something advocates say wouldn’t happen.

State police did not oppose the bill yesterday because it is appropriate to study the issue, said Lt. Col. John. B. Lile.

But Lile said the agency still opposes hemp production.

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