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Following bipartisan support from both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Friday that he would allow the “hemp bill” to become law without his signature.
The hemp bill is Senate Bill 50, Sen. Paul Hornback’s legislation that creates an administrative framework for industrial hemp production in Kentucky.
At nearly the last minute of the 2013 legislative session, the House passed the bill by a margin of 88-4 and the senate concurred in a House floor amendment by a vote of 35-1.
When a bill is passed by both chambers of the legislature, the governor has the option of vetoing it, signing it into law or allowing it to become law without his signature.
“I strongly support efforts to create additional legal cash crops for our farm communities,” Beshear said in a statement Friday. “At the same time, we have a tremendous drug problem in Kentucky, and I want to make sure that we don’t do anything that will increase that drug problem. I still share the same concerns our law enforcement officers have about the impact hemp cultivation may have on our drug eradication efforts.
“The bottom line is that Senate Bill 50 won’t allow industrial hemp to be grown or sold unless and until the federal government takes the very big step of legalizing the crop in some way. If that happens, we will have time to work with the legislature and law enforcement to make any further changes necessary to ensure the public’s safety and alleviate those concerns.
“Therefore, I am allowing SB50 to become law without my signature.”
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a strong supporter of the bill, says he now plans to take the issue to the federal government because, as Beshear stated, no production can begin until the federal government legalizes the growth of hemp or grants a waiver to Kentucky.
“This shows what can happen when the people get behind positive legislation that has the potential to create jobs and opportunity for Kentucky,” Comer said in a statement released Friday. “Six months ago, industrial hemp was on nobody’s radar. Now, SB 50 will become the law of the Commonwealth. I’m grateful to all the people — legislators, farmers, business people, Republicans, Democrats — who made their voices heard on this issue, and to Sen. Paul Hornback for taking a chance and sponsoring the bill.”
Comer said now he plans to call on Washington and work with Kentucky’s congressional delegation to ask federal authorities for permission to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky.
“Now that this bill will become law, the federal government will know that Kentucky’s leaders from both parties are united in our intent to bring industrial hemp production back to the Commonwealth in a responsible way,” Commissioner Comer said.
The legislation gained support from Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, also.
“I applaud Commissioner James Comer for his leadership on the issue and the Kentucky General Assembly for passing the legislation which has the potential to provide an economic boost to Kentucky, create jobs and allow Kentucky farmers to harness the economic potential that industrial hemp can provide,” McConnell said after the passage of the legislation.
“I commend the Kentucky General Assembly for final passage of Senate Bill 50. I want to thank Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Paul Hornback and the members of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission for their leadership and hard work in passing this legislation,” Paul said.
“Senate Bill 50 is an important step forward in the reintroduction of industrial hemp in Kentucky. I have pledged, along with Rep. John Yarmuth, to seek a waiver when a regulatory framework is in place. I will follow through on that pledge and I hope that Kentucky will soon start growing hemp, creating jobs and leading the nation in this industry again.”
So, what does this mean for Spencer County?
Spencer Countian and former magistrate John Riley is a member of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission and says hemp could be a boon to industry in Kentucky.
“Fortunately the vast majority of Kentuckians and the vast majority of their representatives in the Kentucky legislature have studied and understand Kentucky’s rich history and potential for industrial hemp production,” Riley said. “Overwhelmingly they agree Kentucky should once again be leading the nation on this issue. They understand the potential for Kentucky farmers to have another alternative crop that they know produces well in our soils and climate as well as the potential for job creation in producing crops, processing hemp for the fiber, cellulose, seed and oils and the many products that can be made from hemp from foods, fuels, building materials and much more.”
Bryce Roberts, agriculture agent at the Spencer County Cooperative Extension Office, said he hasn’t fielded very many calls on hemp yet, but has heard some interest throughout the community.
Because the federal government currently bans the growth of hemp because of its similarity to marijuana, a lot is still unknown about what could occur at the local level.
Roberts said the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture will most likely be involved in the research aspect.
“We know going in, with research at UK, we would be involved,” Robert said.
If a waiver is granted from Washington, D.C., Roberts said the production of hemp could produce a lot of new opportunities — and Spencer County is agriculturally equipped to be involved in the production.
“From what I can tell, there’s no drawback [that would keep Spencer County from growing the crop],” Roberts said. “We should be able to raise it like anybody else could. You can add fertilizers, and I don’t foresee any issues.”
But, as locals await a decision at the federal level, “there are still a lot of questions,” Roberts said.
Riley said he, along with many other Kentuckians, hope the federal ban is lifted.
“With Senate Bill 50 becoming law, Kentucky can move forward working to overcome the federal ban on this important crop,” Riley said. “I especially applaud the efforts of Commissioner Comer, Sen. Hornback and Sen. [Rocky] Adkins in moving this legislation forward. Kentucky citizens will be anxiously supporting the efforts of our federal delegation to bring about a long needed change in policy to allow Kentucky farmers to do what farmers in Canada, China and over 30 other industrial nations do — grow hemp and above all create jobs.”