Thursday, September 26, 2013

Partisan divide opens in Kentucky on legality of industrial hemp crops; Republicans favor them

Last week Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said he expects farmers to be able to grow legal hemp crops next year, but state Attorney General Jack Conway said Wednesday "that the crop is still illegal, and farmers who grow it could be prosecuted," Gregory Hall reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Conway issued a written statement saying anyone who intentionally grows the crop “will expose themselves to potential criminal liability and the possible seizure of property."

James Comer
Comer’s office responded by "suggesting that neither the federal or state government would charge growers," Hall writes. A Comer spokeswoman told him, "The law is that industrial hemp is legal in Kentucky. If the feds aren’t going to prosecute industrial hemp, surely the attorney general of Kentucky isn’t going to move forward with prosecuting hemp farmers." But Gov. Steve Beshear said through a spokeswoman that he agreed with Conway, a fellow Democrat. Comer is a Republican, and he and Conway are aiming for the 2015 governor's race, when Beshear can't run again.

"Comer, an advocate for hemp, and the Kentucky [Industrial] Hemp Commission, which Comer revived last year to suggest hemp policy, contend the U.S. Justice Department’s recent stance easing enforcement of marijuana laws along with the state’s new hemp law, means the plant can be grown legally in the state," Hall writes. "But Kentucky State Police officials don’t agree, and asked for an opinion from Conway, who sided with the state police. Conway says proponents need a waiver from the federal government or a change in federal law to produce hemp. A spokeswoman for Comer said Wednesday that hemp proponents will proceed to develop regulations on growing the plant despite the opinion, which is advisory and does not have the force of law."

Jack Conway
In April, Beshear allowed to become law without his signature a bill to allow limited farming of industrial hemp if the federal government grants the state a waiver.  "The Justice Department issued its new marijuana guidelines in August, pulling back from decades of federal drug enforcement efforts to eradicate the plant," Hall writes. "The new guidelines allow states to permit the growing, selling and using of marijuana so long as states protect children and prevent it from entering the black market." Republican U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have supported the hemp law. (Read more)

UPDATE, Sept. 27: Conway clarified his position, telling The Sentinel-News of Shelbyville that he is for legalized industrial hemp, and “All I’m trying to say is be careful. I’m not sure why all the hype from the Ag office is going to Defcom 5.” (Presumably, he meant Defcon, or "defense condition," in which war is 1, not 5.) Reporter Todd Martin writes, “Conway said it was too hypothetical to know if he would prosecute in a case like this but added, 'I think I’d have higher priorities than that.'” (Read more)

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