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Hemp debate may revive in tobacco money tussle

Posted on April 12, 2000

Bt Mark R Chellgren, Associated Press

Frankfort, Kentucky — House and Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement late Tuesday about how to divide tobacco settlement funds.

The compromise would direct that 35 percent of the proceeds of the settlement set aside for agriculture be earmarked for specific counties, based on their economic dependence on tobacco.

The remaining 65 percent would be apportioned by a state board with leeway to select projects, intiatives and research to benefit all areas of agriculture.

“I couldn’t tell you we have any rock-solid agreements on anything,” said Rep. Joe Barrows, D-Versailles, the leader of a House group that wanted most of the money going to tobacco counties.

A a new twist to the debate is as yet unresolved—hemp.

Barrows wants the chance to set aside some of the tobacco settlement money for research into growing industrial hemp. A bill that would have directed such research at Kentucky universities passed the House earlier this session but died in the Senate.

Barrows said a new state board that is to be appointed to consider agriculture initiatives would have to consider underwriting hemp research. Barrows and other supporters believe hemp could become a significant crop for beleaguered farmers as a source of fiber and oil.

But there is a problem. “Right now, the status in Kentucky is industrial hemp is just as illegal as street marijuana,” Barrows said Tuesday.

Both hemp and marijuana contain the narcotic that gives smokers their high, though hemp has a much smaller amount. Kentucky and federal law make no distinction. Research would have to be approved by federal authorities as well.

Senators are not opposed to hemp research on its own so much as making decisions for the state board before it is even appointed.

“The interest of the Senate is keep the money in a larger pool and let the board decide,” said Sen. David Boswell, D-Owensboro, a former commissioner of agriculture.

If the board determines that researching hemp is a good idea, it could do so, said Boswell.

The powers and makeup of the board is a critical difference between House and Senate tobacco plans. The state could get as much as $3.4 billion over the next 25 years in the settlement and half will be set aside for agriculture.

The settlement is by cigarette manufacturers to repay states for the health-related costs of smoking.

The Senate wants most of the money to go to broad research, marketing and environmental efforts to help all of agriculture. A state board would determine what projects and initiatives to finance.

The House version would send two-thirds of the money back to individual counties, based on their own economic reliance on tobacco.

Copyright © 2000, Mark R Chellgren, Associated Press. All rights reserved.