A state industrial hemp bill could face a tougher road to approval in the House of Representatives than it did in the Senate.
Legislation that would set up a framework for a hemp industry – should the crop’s growth be allowed on a federal level – was approved by 31-6 in the Senate last week and has now been sent to the House.
Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, said he expects the legislation to get a hearing in the Agriculture and Small Business Committee, of which he is a vice chair.
“It’ll have some life in the House,” Stone said. “It’ll be interesting to see how robust that life is.”
The Agriculture and Small Business Committee Chairman Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, said there could be a hearing for the bill next week.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer hasn’t given evidence that the state would benefit from growing industrial hemp.
“You know, you don’t want to promise farmers that this is a cash crop that they can count on,” Stumbo said. “Soybeans and corn are at pretty much record price levels, so you wouldn’t want to turn them away from profitable crops and ask them to grow something there’s no market for. And quite frankly, the evidence that we’ve seen indicates that there’s not much of a market for industrial hemp.”
Hemp is a relative of marijuana that contains low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical in marijuana that gives users a high. Hemp’s fibers and seeds are used in a variety of products. There is not enough THC in hemp to give users a high.
Though he thinks Comer has done a good job with the bill, it concerns him that law enforcement aren’t yet comfortable with the legislation, Stone said. Representatives from the Kentucky State Police spoke in opposition to the bill during a Senate hearing last Monday.
Law enforcement concerns include the potential for hemp to be used as a cover crop for marijuana. Hemp and marijuana look strikingly similar.
Speakers during that hearing also included Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, and other members of the Kentucky delegation in Washington.
It also still hasn’t been established if there is interest out there that could foster a new industry for industrial hemp, Stone said.
“I think if we work on those issues, it certainly has a chance,” he said.
Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, was one of six senators to vote against the legislation Thursday.
Givens said he has respect both for Comer, who has advocated for the legislation, and law enforcement agencies that have expressed concerns about the proposal.
“I basically set that aside and looked at this as a true public policy decision,” he said.
He would like to see legislation brought forward that would initially allow industrial hemp growth on a much smaller, controlled scale so it could be further studied, Givens said.
Such legislation would give lawmakers time to put a more comprehensive framework in place for larger-scale growing of the crop, he said.
He would also like to hear more about the potential impact of industrial hemp in Kentucky.
“This market is truly in its infancy,” he said.
Givens said changes to the legislation are likely as it moves through the House.
Rep. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said he voted in favor of the industrial hemp legislation with the knowledge that it has the support of the state’s federal delegation and former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who also spoke during the Senate hearing.
“It was a tough vote,” he said.
The bill has the potential to be an economic development tool for the state, and Canada has allowed industrial hemp growth for a number of years without a lot of problems, Wilson said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.