By Rae Hodge–
After sailing through the Kentucky Senate Agriculture Committee, and passing out of the State Senate in a 31-6 vote, a bill supporting industrial hemp now faces an uncertain fate in the state House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 50 would create oversight for Kentucky farmers who want to grow industrial hemp, should hemp become federally legal. The state agriculture department would issue licenses to hemp growers who would first undergo a criminal background check. The license would cover up to 10 acres and would be valid for a year. Hemp production would also require state inspections of crops.
While the bill enjoyed mostly bi-partisan support in the state Senate, two key Kentucky Democrats have reacted with less enthusiasm.
Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonburg, said in the Capitol on Feb. 15 that he expected the bill to have a tougher time in the House. “And quite frankly,” said Stumbo, “the evidence that we’ve seen indicates that there’s not much of a market for industrial hemp.”
Public sentiment appears to support industrialized hemp. 65 percent of respondents said that they believe that hemp creates jobs. The following Harper Polling Survey, commissioned by RunSwitch Public Relations of Louisville, was conducted with 850 likely voters, Feb. 11-12. Its stated margin of error is +/- 3.36 percent.
Federally, Kentucky Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, both Republicans, have sponsored pro-hemp legislation in the U.S. Senate. Kentucky’s Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie has sponsored legislation in the U.S. House. Both Massie and Kentucky’s Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, have both spoken in support of the hemp bill before the state’s Senate Agricultural Committee.
Bill sponsor Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, defended the measure of the state Senate floor, saying, “What I’m here to ask you today is to give up the opportunity. Put us in the position as Kentucky, to give us the opportunity to see how this works.”
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a Republican, has so far led the charge for industrial hemp in the state, urging lawmakers to consider the potential job growth that he says the plant would bring.
“I am extremely proud of the Kentucky state Senate for its commitment to job creation in Kentucky,” said Comer in a release, “Today’s bipartisan vote is the first step toward more opportunities for our farmers and jobs for Kentuckians.”
Gov. Steve Beshear has publicly expressed concern that the crops’ value may be overestimated. Kentucky’s current top-producing (legal) cash crop is corn, which brought in $786.3 million, according the U.S. Agriculture Department’s 2012 numbers. Beshear estimated that numbers for hemp were about $10 million in Canada.
However, according to the executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trading Alliance, Kim Shukla, profits exceed Beshear’s expectations. Shukla says production in Canada is forecasted to double by 2015. In a November interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Shukla said, “That will translate to about $100 million to the Canadian economy.”
Beshear also said that he is concerned with creating a burden to law enforcement. “We’ve got a big drug problem in Kentucky,” Beshear said in a recent television interview, “and I just want to make sure we don’t do anything that will make that problem even worse.”
Senate Bill 50 moved to the Kentucky House of Representatives where Stumbo has assigned it to the House Agriculture Committee.
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