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State committee approves hemp bill

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By Brad Bowman

The Kentucky Senate Agriculture Committee didn’t blow any smoke when it came to setting the industrial hemp bill on fire with unanimous support Monday.

The bill would regulate Kentucky’s industrial hemp crops under the supervision of the state Department of Agriculture.

Committee chair Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, sponsored the bill, which would require that farmers who want to grow the crop undergo criminal background checks before the department would issue their annual license.

Sen. Hornback, said the bill would allow Kentuckians a head start in the market of legalized hemp production and be competitive with jobs and revenue it could generate.

“It’s not very often we get the opportunity to put our Commonwealth in a position to take advantage of an opportunity,” Hornback said. “If you sit around and wait… you’re going to miss out…  I think we have to be first.”

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has been an outspoken supporter of the bill along with, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green. Comer upholds hemp as a good alternative to tobacco and believes it would improve the state’s economy.

In an interview last year with the Kentucky Standard, Comer expressed the need for action on the bill.

“The U.S. is the only country that doesn’t grow industrial hemp. North Dakota is suing the DEA because they can see the money being made in Canada,” Comer said. “We will continue to educate people statewide to address the misinformation and the potential it has for our agricultural economy.”

It is a cheaper crop for farmers to put out than crops such as corn grown for ethanol and is greener. Industrial hemp doesn’t require fertilizer, Comer said.

“This could create manufacturing jobs,” Comer said. “We have companies that would come here for manufacturing greener products to replace plastic for the automotive industry such as car dashes.”

Industrial hemp can be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics and cosmetics, and as an oil, replacing petroleum resin in paint.

Federal law prohibits growing hemp, but U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville and Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg said they plan to work on legislation for an exemption for the Commonwealth that would lift the restriction.

Senate Bill 50 will go to the full Senate for consideration.