Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

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February 19, 2013

Not everybody sold on hemp

Feb. 19, 2013 —

There they were together, both promoting a new five-year strategic plan for Kentucky agriculture.

But neither Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear nor Republican Commissioner of Agriculture Jamie Comer mentioned the word on so many minds in Frankfort these days: hemp.

The plan, developed by the Kentucky Agriculture Council (KAC), lists seven core strategies, none of them specifically tied to hemp: next generation farming; new market identification; regional agricultural and rural community development; agricultural education; consumer education; government policies; and policy-maker education.

But the printed plan also lists some “sidebars,” one of which is entitled “Opportunities for industrial hemp may promote continued diversification.”

Comer has made passage of a bill to authorize the regulation of hemp growing in Kentucky a priority but Beshear has voiced concerns about an available market for the biological relative of marijuana and law enforcement’s ability to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

Currently the federal government bars cultivation of hemp but Kentucky’s Republican Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, have introduced legislation to end that federal ban.

Beshear said he endorses the effort by the agriculture community to be pro-active in searching for new markets and diversifying crops, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with Comer’s or others’ position on hemp.

Hemp is certainly possible an example of diversification,” Beshear said. “We’ve got two issues we’ve got to address there; is there a market for it. I think there are some studies going on right now that might help us in that direction. And then there are law enforcement concerns. We need to solve both of those issues before we move hemp.”

The state Republican-controlled Senate has already passed a bill to set up a “regulatory framework” to license hemp growers and production in Kentucky but its prospects in the Democratic-controlled House are dicey.

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