Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Louisville) is supporting a drive to legalize industrial hemp in Kentucky, his Washington, D.C., office announced on Thursday.
“After long discussions with Senator Rand Paul and Commissioner James Comer on the economic benefits of industrialized hemp, I am convinced that allowing its production will be a positive development for Kentucky’s farm families and economy,” McConnell said.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s office welcomed the support from McConnell, which came three days after state law enforcement officers released a statement opposing it. The cops, who seem to be haunted by the remote possibility of not being able to bust anyone they want for weed anymore, claimed industrial hemp was a “step towards legal marijuana,” reports Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
“Commissioner Comer has assured me that his office is committed to pursuing industrialized hemp production in a way that does not compromise Kentucky law enforcement’s marijuana eradication efforts or in any way promote illegal drug use,” McConnell said.
The very conservative McConnell apparently decided to come down on the side of jobs after conversations on the economic potential of industrial hemp with both Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Bowling Green).
“The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real, and if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times, that sounds like a good thing to me,” McConnell said.
“When the most powerful Republican in the country calls to discuss your issue, that’s a good day on the job,” Commissioner Comer said. “Leader McConnell’s support adds immeasurable strength to our efforts to bring good jobs to Kentucky.”
Comer is scheduled to testify on February 11 before the Kentucky Senate Agriculture Committee on Senate Bill 50, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville). The bill would allow licensed farmers to grow industrial hemp if federal restrictions are lifted. Hemp cultivation is banned because the federal government considers industrial hemp — which contains extremely low levels of THC (typically less than one percent), and will not get you high — identical to marijuana under the law.
Sen. Paul has filed federal legislation to distinguish between hemp and marijuana, and he and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) plan to lobby Washington, D.C., for a waiver for Kentucky to grow hemp if the regulatory legislation passes.
The hemp legalization bill has the backing of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; on Thursday, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce also voted to endorse it after hearing from state Sen. Hornback and state Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), the state Senate Majority Floor Leader.
Hornback, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has said the bill will pass his committee and likely the entire state Senate, but the Kentucky House seems more reluctant to take up the issue.
“This is going to be a very difficult issue for the House to ignore,” Comer said on Thursday.
Hemp was once the number one cash crop in Kentucky, and from the Colonial period until the mid-1800s, Kentucky was the number one hemp producing state, according to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture [PDF]. Production dwindled after the Civil War, but was restarted during World War II. U.S. production of hemp was ended in 1958.