By WLEX TV Kentucky
Instead of letting farmers leap into hemp production, the Kentucky House voted Wednesday to take a small step toward reintroducing a one-time agricultural mainstay.
The House passed a bill to let hemp be grown for university research, provided federal drug regulators consent. The research would assess hemp’s economic potential for farmers reeling from declines in tobacco quotas.
“We will know in two years if we have a viable product or not,” Democratic Rep. Tom McKee, a Harrison County farmer, said in a floor debate.
Not everyone liked the incremental approach. Some said Kentucky was missing a chance to be a leader in the industrial hemp movement.
“I’m disappointed that we are postponing an opportunity that could help farmers and agriculture in this state for two years or longer, mostly out of fear and misunderstanding,” said Rep. Steve Nunn, R-Glasgow.
Hemp’s detractors link the crop to marijuana, its hallucinogenic cousin.
Kentucky State Police officials say legalization of hemp would pose an enforcement nightmare because it is indistinguishable from marijuana. Several lawmakers carried that anti-hemp theme to the House floor.
Also Wednesday, Gov. Paul Patton said he opposes the growing of industrial hemp for similar reasons. He said it would make it more difficult for law enforcement to keep track of marijuana. And he said promises of hemp as a new source of money for beleaguered farmers is overblown.
Hemp was an agricultural staple throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. It was banned in 1937 when the federal government outlawed marijuana.
The original bill would have legalized hemp production by farmers, with strict state regulation, contingent on approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The state would have licensed growers, with background checks, and could have inspected places where hemp was grown and processed.
Rep. Mark Treesh, R-Owensboro, advocated the gradual approach. He said that would bring the crop’s potential into clearer focus, and avoid any unintended consequences for farmers.
Copyright © 2000, WLEX TV Kentucky. All rights reserved.