The Richmond Register

March 21, 2013

Could hemp bill be on way back?

By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — To listen to members of Kentucky’s revived Hemp Commission on Thursday, a compromise on a bill to regulate cultivation of industrial hemp is just around the corner.

That’s not all. It sounded as if hemp can solve many of Kentucky’s problems, adding jobs, producing clean energy, and making Kentucky a leader in something other than basketball, whiskey and horses.

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, is sponsor of Senate Bill 50 which would establish a “regulatory framework” within the Department of Agriculture for the licensing and cultivation of hemp if the federal government lifts its ban on the biological relative of marijuana.

The idea is pushed by Republican Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer and supported by U.S. Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell and U.S. Congressmen Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg, and John Yarmuth, D-Louisville.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate easily but is stalled in the Rules Committee of the Democratic-controlled House where Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has questioned the market for the crop and the need for new legislation to replace a bill passed in 2001.

Stumbo has also said any bill which receives his backing must first overcome concerns by law enforcement officials, especially the Kentucky State Police, that legalizing the crop will make marijuana eradication and enforcement more difficult and expensive.

Minutes before the House recessed for 10 days last week, majority floor leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said he will offer an amendment to call for a five-year study of hemp, make the KSP commissioner a co-chairman of the Hemp Commission; assign the commission to the Center for Applied Energy Research at the University of Kentucky and offer tax credits for those who grow or process the plant.

Comer has said that amendment isn’t acceptable.

“We’re not going to support anything that would delay a (federal) permit and delay getting a permit would be doing a study,” Comer said.

Additionally, Comer said, making KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer – a vocal critic of the legislation – co-chair of the commission would also make it less likely the federal government would offer Kentucky a waiver to grow the plant.

But Hornback told the commission he has met with Adkins and House Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, about the proposed amendment and planned to meet with them again Friday.

He described the first meeting as “a very good, open discussion,” but added he told Adkins he couldn’t agree with all the changes proposed in the amendment.

Still, Hornback said, he is “very hopeful we can work out something.’

Commission member John Riley, who describes himself as a hemp advocate and real estate broker from Spencer County, made no bones about his opposition to Adkins’ amendment.

“This is more than just an amendment,” Riley said. ‘This is a wholesale rewrite of the bill. I don’t know what the justification for that would be. I would recommend we reject the Adkins amendment and pass Senate Bill 50 as is.”

Riley, Hornback and Katie Moyer all said they see no reason to include tax credits for growers or processors.

Moyer said her involvement in “grassroots movements” tells her those grassroots activists don’t want tax credits.

“What we really want in the grassroots movement is to cut our budget, cut spending,” Moyer said. “I think this crop can stand or fall on its own.”

Comer said he is “optimistic” the measure can pass in the final two days of the session when lawmakers return to Frankfort on Monday and Tuesday. He said if Democratic House leaders allow a vote on the house floor, the bill would pass 85-15.

Meanwhile, several speakers extolled all the virtues of the plant, saying numerous companies are interested in relocating to Kentucky if hemp is grown here, everything from seed companies, food processors and those who wish to process hemp fibers for bio-fuels and automobile component materials.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.