Last updated: July 18. 2013 7:29PM - 491 Views
Cris Ritchie
Civitas News Service

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FRANKFORT — A bill filed in the Kentucky Senate last week will position the state to take the lead in legal hemp production, the bill’s sponsor said on Friday.

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, filed Senate Bill 50 Friday morning, which would put into place regulations on the growth and production of industrial hemp in Kentucky if the federal government moves ahead with legalizing the plant. Hornback’s bill would include criminal background checks and establishing licensing procedures for hemp growers, among other things.

A similar bill had already been filed in the state House by Rep. Terry Mills, a Democrat from Lebanon.

Support for the legalization of hemp has grown in past months, as both Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul appeared last year at a joint press conference to discuss its legalization. Comer later revived the long dormant hemp commission.

The growth of hemp in the United States is currently illegal, but proponents say its legal production represents an economic boon. Sen. Hornback said last week that economics was the main driver behind his filing of Senate Bill 50.

“The big thing is that it’s one of the only bills [filed this year] that has the potential in the future to actually create new jobs and new markets here in the state of Kentucky,” Hornback said. “We’re always looking for things like that. That’s what we push for, and that’s what drives the economy, and I think it will help people throughout the state.”

Despite the growing support for industrial hemp, which is used in a number of products from shampoo to automobile parts, there remains some opposition to its decriminalization. Some law enforcement groups have opposed any measure to legalize hemp, including the Kentucky State Police.

KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer said in December that while he sees the benefits for agriculture, hemp’s close resemblance to marijuana makes the two plants nearly indistinguishable to the casual observer, and could cause issues with law enforcement.

Hemp and marijuana are closely related plants, but as Sen. Hornback noted, hemp contains only a negligible amount of THC, the chemical in marijuana that produces a high when smoked or ingested. Hornback’s bill does not allow for the legalization of marijuana.

Hornback said ultimately he thinks that the market for hemp in Kentucky could add to the state’s manufacturing base, and he hopes that industrial hemp could fill the gaps for small farmers whose land used to support tobacco crops.

“Of course, I’ve been a tobacco grower all my life, and I know how devastating it was to the economy of Kentucky with the downturn in tobacco production,” Hornback said. “My opinion in what I think will happen is it will be an alternative to those people that have grown tobacco and have those farms that are suitable more on smaller acres to grow tobacco. I think it will be a high value crop per acre, because of the products and what they’re selling for right now.”

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s office released a statement last week, just a few hours after Hornback’s filing and an endorsement from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce on the legalization of industrial hemp in Kentucky.

“With the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Board’s unanimous endorsement of the industrial hemp bill, I’m convinced that our coalition to get government out of the way and create jobs for Kentucky is going to be successful,” Comer said. “Sen. Paul Hornback’s bill, which has bi-partisan support in the General Assembly, is incredibly important to rural economic development. Kentucky deserves to be first in line for these jobs.”

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