Feb. 15, 2013 — If the Republican state Senate gets its way, hemp could once again grow tall in Kentucky fields the plant inhabited for years.
The Senate passed a bill Thursday to authorize a regulatory “framework” for growing hemp if the federal government — which current bans growing the plant because it’s biologically akin to marijuana — legalizes hemp production or grants the state a waiver.
The bill passed 31-6 with four Republicans and two Democrats, mostly from southeastern Kentucky, voting no.
At the same time in Washington Thursday, Kentucky’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, along with Oregon Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, introduced legislation to allow American farmers to cultivate and profit from industrial hemp.
The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 would remove federal restrictions on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp. It would remove hemp from the Schedule I controlled substance list and define it as a non-drug so long as it contained less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The state measure has been a major issue for Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who has campaigned loud and hard to allow Kentucky farmers to grow the crop.
Hemp used to be a major crop in Kentucky. Henry Clay was a major producer and seller of the plant, which can be used to manufacture paper, composite materials and oils for a variety of products and uses.
But after World War II, the government banned hemp because of its similarity to marijuana. Hemp has a much lower percentage of THC, the chemical that produces the marijuana smoker’s high.
Proponents say smokers can’t get high smoking hemp and that it offers Kentucky a potentially lucrative agricultural crop.
But law enforcement agencies say it is impossible to distinguish by sight between the two and say it will make their marijuana eradication efforts more difficult.