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Lawmakers support hemp bill

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Proposal that could clear the way for cash crop passes General Assembly

By Molly Haines

A bill that would set the framework for industrial hemp production and gained the support of Owen County’s state lawmakers is waiting for action by Governor Steve Beshear after being passed by the Kentucky House of Representatives last week.
The General Assembly passed the bill March 26, with an 88-4 margin in the House of Representatives and in the Senate with a House floor amendment, 35-1.
The bill would allow Kentucky farmers to begin production of hemp if the federal government legalizes its production.
Beshear has 10 days to act on the bill, excluding Sundays.
State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who serves as Owen County’s senator and serves as majority floor leader, said Kentucky’s climate is ideal for hemp growth.
“The crop is an alternative for tobacco farmers, with the economic benefit of jobs from the production of goods made from hemp, including cars, clothes and cosmetics,” Thayer said.
U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, who also represents Owen County and supports industrial hemp production is a primary sponsor of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to legalize industrial hemp.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said he would work with Massie and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, as well as Kentucky’s U.S. Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell to seek an exemption for Kentucky on the federal ban.
“We are closer to our goal of bringing hemp back to Kentucky than we have been in more than 60 years,” Comer said in a statement. “And our work continues.”
Both Paul and McConnell said that they would work on a federal approach to enable Kentucky farmers to cultivate and profit from industrial hemp.
The Kentucky House floor amendment was ironed out by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, and House Democratic leadership.
The amendment keeps the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission administratively attached to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and calls for hemp demonstration projects by the University of Kentucky and other public universities.
The legislation limits involvement of the Kentucky State Police to conducting background checks on applicants for licenses to grow industrial hemp. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, the hemp commission’s current chairman, will step down to vice chair and the commission will elect a new chairman.
Owen County’s fourth district magistrate Troy Bramblett said he hopes Beshear will allow the bill to come into law.
“With the voting record of the senate and the house, that proves in itself that people are for allowing farmers to have an additional cash crop,” Bramblett said. “I think there’s a real high potential for Owen County and Kentucky farmers with this bill if the federal government lifts the ban on hemp or gives Kentucky a waiver to let farmers grow it.”