News on hemp is making bigger and bigger waves, this in from USA Today:
Kentucky Senate votes to legalize hemp
A century ago, Kentucky produced the most hemp in the country.FRANKFORT, Ky. — An effort to allow Kentucky farmers to grow hemp for a variety of products passed the state Senate on Thursday — and took a small step toward federal acceptance as well.
But it still faces steep odds, including skepticism from the governor and Kentucky State Police and the distinct possibility of being gutted in the state House.
STORY: Ky. lawmakers take opposite sides on hemp
BLOG: Hemp on cutting edge of green building
Backers of Kentucky Senate Bill 50 say Thursday's 31-6 vote could make Kentucky among the first in the nation to legalize the crop, potentially creating thousands of hemp-related jobs growing and processing the plant's fiber and seeds.
But Gov. Steve Beshear said he has doubts about legalizing the far weaker relative of marijuana as an industrial crop, citing state police concerns about complicating marijuana enforcement efforts. Even if the state legalizes hemp, the federal government would have to distinguish it from marijuana before cultivation could be allowed.
The federal government took a step in that direction Thursday when Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, both Kentucky Republicans, joined Oregon's Democratic senators in sponsoring a bill that would remove hemp from the federal controlled substance list and define it as a nondrug — as long as it contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC and the active ingredient in marijuana.
Marijuana has 3% to 15% THC.
"I am extremely proud of the Kentucky state Senate for its commitment to job creation in Kentucky," said Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who has led the campaign to pass the bill along with Paul.
Kentucky would become the ninth state to remove barriers to the production of industrial hemp, according to Vote Hemp, a national group seeking to legalize the crop. Seven states — Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington — have introduced bills have introduced bills so far this year.
"Today's bipartisan vote is the first step toward more opportunities for our farmers and jobs for Kentuckians," Comer said.
The bill now goes to the state House, where Speaker Greg Stumbo said it will have a "tougher time."
House may rewrite
Stumbo has suggested the bill may be overhauled to remove the rules for growing hemp and replace them with an economic impact study. Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, Ky., and former state attorney general, has said he doesn't believe hemp has a market.
"It's not that we are saying, 'No,' " he said. "We are saying that the evidence doesn't show enough of a market to override the concerns that the law enforcement community has."
Beshear voiced similar concerns before the Senate vote.
"We really don't know anything about whether there's going to be a market for it yet," Beshear said. "The other concern is law enforcement. ... We've got a big drug problem in Kentucky, and I just want to make sure we don't do anything that will make that problem any worse."
The Kentucky State Police, the most vocal critic of the bill, didn't comment on the vote. The state police argues that allowing hemp production would hamper efforts to eradicate marijuana because the plants look very similar.
"Our position's very well known," Sgt. Rick Saint Blancard said, adding that the agency will enforce whatever laws are passed.
McConnell and Paul's U.S. Senate legislation is similar to a bill filed in the U.S. House last week by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who represents much of northern Kentucky.
The House bill has 28 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors.
The debate Thursday on the Kentucky Senate floor mirrored previous arguments, both in Kentucky and across the nation.
"This issue in the big scheme of things is a nonissue," said state Sen. Chris Girdler, a Republican from Somerset, Ky., who questioned its economic benefit in voting against the bill.
Hemp used to be used for making ropes and sailcloth until the federal government began restricting production after the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. After World War II, its cultivation was phased out across the country. From the end of the Civil War until 1912, almost all hemp in the U.S. was grown in Kentucky, according to Oregon State University research.
State Sen. David Givens, a Republican from Greensburg, Ky., said he would prefer to approve a small, controlled growing study while the economics of hemp could be analyzed.
Seeking a chance
"Give us the opportunity to see how this works," said bill sponsor Republican Paul Hornback of Shelbyville, Ky., who also is a farmer. He said any study would be limited because growing the product isn't allowed in the United States.
But he said he's already heard from two companies interested in Kentucky taking action, including a Canadian hemp processor that would relocate to Kentucky and another that interested in using hemp fiber for concrete.
STORY: More states want federal OK to grow hemp
"If you're not first, you're probably last," Hornback said. China is the world's largest producer of hemp.
SB 50 would require growers to be licensed annually and undergo an Agriculture Department background check.
Each licensee would be required to plant a minimum of 10 acres, a provision meant to keep licenses from people who are not serious about the effort.
Growers would have to keep sales contracts for three years and provide names of hemp buyers to the department.