Attorney General Jack Conway on Wednesday issued an advisory letter to Kentucky State Police warning that hemp cultivation remains illegal in the state, despite the agriculture commissioner and Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission signaling that they are ready to move forward with the creation of a hemp industry. 

Kentucky law is set to mirror any change in federal law governing the growth of industrial hemp, but no changes have been made, according to the letter, which was addressed to KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer.

“Any individual or entity that invests in anticipation of growing industrial hemp in the near future, and any individual or entity that intentionally grows hemp within the Commonwealth, will expose themselves to potential criminal liability and the possible seizure of property by federal or state law enforcement agencies,” the letter said.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said today that Conway’s letter sends a negative message to processors interested in locating in Kentucky. Processors are important because no farmer will be willing to plant hemp without a market to sell it, he said.

“It seems like it’s an effort by a few politicians in Frankfort to see that this not succeed,” Comer said of the letter.

Moving forward with hemp quickly is vital in setting up an industry, because several other states are interested in growing the crop, he said.

“If we’re not one of the first states, then we can forget about it,” Comer said.

Hemp is related to marijuana. Both contain the chemical that gives marijuana users a high – tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – but the trace amounts in hemp aren’t enough to produce a high.

But hemp is still considered marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, according to the attorney general’s letter.

The letter notes that, under Kentucky law, a general industrial hemp growers license is only allowed “subject to the authorization of legal industrial hemp growth and production in the United States under applicable federal laws relating to industrial hemp.”

Earlier this month, the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission voted to allow Comer to send a letter informing the Department of Justice that Kentucky plans to move forward with the regulation and cultivation of hemp.

The decision was made in light of federal documents, including an August memo from the DOJ, stating it will honor state laws regulating marijuana sales provided strong regulations are in place. 

The agency’s contract attorney, Luke Morgan, told the commission that the documents allow the state to move forward with Kentucky Senate Bill 50, which sets up a framework for hemp growth.

At that time, Maj. Anthony Terry, a KSP representative on the commission, chose not to vote and said that clarification was needed both from the DOJ and the attorney general before changes are made to Kentucky’s approach to hemp. 

The letter to the DOJ has already been sent and co-signed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, Comer said.

An opinion from the DOJ will carry more weight than the attorney general’s opinion, he said.

If there is no response from the DOJ, then Comer said he will assume it is all right to move forward with plans on hemp cultivation.

In the meantime, Comer said his office will continue to try to work with processors to encourage them to come to Kentucky and contract with Kentucky farmers.

— Katie Brandenburg covers government. Follow her at twitter.com/BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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