FRANKFORT, KY. — A bill that would legalize growing hemp for industrial use cleared a state legislative committee Monday with a unanimous vote.
The passage means the bill can now be considered by the full state Senate.
Regardless of what happens at the state level, legalization would also require the federal government to reclassify industrial hemp as legal. Currently it is included with marijuana, its fellow member of the cannabis family.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., testified before the committee and said that if the state legalizes hemp, he’s introduce federal legislation or seek a waiver from President Barack Obama to reclassify hemp.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, the committee’s chairman, argue that Kentucky could be in line for a huge influx of new jobs if the state is among the first to legalize hemp .
Comer has said he believes there are more than enough votes to pass the measure out of the Senate. The bill would face a tougher road in the House where Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has suggested the issue be referred to a study commission rather than approved.
Hemp seeds produce plants with less than 1 percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, which has between 3 percent and 15 percent THC.
The Kentucky State Police oppose the bill, saying it would make enforcement efforts against marijuana, which looks identical to hemp, more difficult. Also opposing the bill are the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association and Operation UNITE, an Eastern Kentucky drug eradication group founded by Rogers.
The bill would require growers to be licensed annually and undergo a background check by the Agriculture Department. Each licensee would be required to plant a minimum of 10 acres, a provision meant to keep licenses from people who are not serious about the effort.
Growers would have to keep sales contracts for three years and provide names of hemp buyers to the department.