Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

August 23, 2012

State politicians support legalization of hemp

Ronnie Ellis

Aug. 23, 2012 — Kentucky politicians from both parties hammed it up Thursday at the Kentucky Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast, calling for the legalization of hemp and for passage of a farm bill to help drought-stricken farmers.

The annual breakfast at the Kentucky State Fair always brings out the politicians, but this year’s featured a press conference by Republican Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul calling for an end to federal restrictions on growing hemp, a biological cousin of marijuana. Paul even said he was wearing a shirt made of hemp which he ordered online from Canada.

State Democratic senators Robin Webb, Grayson, and Joey Pendleton, Hopkinsville, joined them along with Republican state Sen. Dan Seum.

Paul has co-sponsored federal legislation to end federal restrictions on the crop which was once widely grown in Kentucky and which Comer said would likely be the state’s third-highest revenue crop if legalized.

Later, U.S. Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, said the idea is worth study but added that congress has been unable to pass more important legislation and legalizing hemp would “be way down on the priority list.”

Gov. Steve Beshear said he’s “open to the idea but I know that law enforcement has some very serious concerns about the similarity to marijuana and what it might do if you legalize industrial hemp to their enforcement actions on illegal drugs.”

Webb said law enforcement fears they can’t distinguish the two, especially from the air, but she said there “would be enough boots on the ground” along with a state permitting process that would take care of the problem.

Comer said his agency “is already set up to regulate” hemp and with GPS mapping and permitting, the state can identify legal crops of hemp for law enforcement.

He said “politics and misinformation” prevent legalizing a crop which could help Kentucky farmers replace burley tobacco which once was the state’s largest cash crop. Pendleton claimed the crop could produce between 17,000 to 22,000 jobs and asked the Kentucky Farm Bureau “to stand up for Kentucky farmers, stand up for business people and put people back to work” by endorsing the idea.

Webb said hemp is “a natural for Kentucky” because of its soil and climate.

“My Grandpa grew it in Carter County back before the war,” Webb said.

Later at the ham breakfast, Beshear said the public is tired of partisanship in Washington and the gridlock which has produced little legislation — “much less a farm bill,” which is badly needed by Kentucky’s farmers facing dire drought conditions.

“I think we would all say that it is time we have a farm bill for this country,” Beshear told the 1,600 or so people gathered in the exhibition hall at the Kentucky Fairgrounds. That brought as much applause as any line by any speaker.

When McConnell followed Beshear, he agreed on the need to pass a farm bill — but not the one currently before the Congress.

“I agree with the governor that we ought to pass a farm bill,” McConnell said. “I don’t agree that we ought to pass a farm bill, 80 percent of which has nothing to do with farming.” He said he’s confident a bill will eventually pass.

He complained the current bill is loaded down with increases in food stamps and other domestic spending during a time of deficits and increasing government debt. But that didn’t seem to bother most of the farmers in the crowd — they want help now.

Some are considering selling livestock herds because they’re having to buy hay and feed to replace the forage and feed usually produced on their land but decimated this summer by drought. But the increase of livestock on the market is driving down those prices as well.

The annual auction of the fair’s prize winning ham produced a winning bid of $300,000 from Dr. Mark Lynn and Associates of Louisville. The money for the 17.6-pound ham produced by Scott Hams of Greenville will go to charity.

Lynn announced the money this year will go to the University of Louisville, Visually Impaired Preschool Services and Eastern Area Community Ministries. He also indicated the ham will be donated to Wayside Christian Mission.

The $300,000 bid was about half of last year’s bid and a far cry from the record amount of $1.2 million.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him