Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ky. Senate passes hemp bill and McConnell signs on, but state's top 2 Democrats are opposed or wary

UPDATE, Feb. 19: Gov. Steve Beshear says law enforcement concerns should be resolved before such a bill is passed, reports Lori Hailey of The Lane Report, a Kentucky business magazine. The Lexington Herald-Leader says Speaker Greg Stumbo's opposition looks political.

A bill to allow and regulate commercial hemp crops in Kentucky if the federal government allows it passed the Republican-controlled state Senate 31-6 today, and the state's senior U.S. senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul in co-sponsoring a bill to "distinguish hemp from marijuana in the eyes of law enforcement," Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. UPDATE, Feb. 17: Patton and Salon examine hemp's potential.

Speaker Stumbo, left, and Rep. Rogers
(Photo: Lexington Herald-Leader)
The state bill faces a big obstacle in House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who is a Democrat but is also a Eastern Kentucky ally of Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who founded a regional anti-drug agency that could lose funding if the federal government gets less aggressive about marijuana and/or if hemp farming drives marijuana growers indoors.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a Republican, told Patton he has the votes to get the bill out of the House Agriculture Committee and through the full House, but Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear was skeptical of the measure today, in his most lengthy public discussion of the subject to date. He said another crop "might be good" for farmers but "We really don't know anything about whether there's going to be a market for it yet. . . .  So we may be yelling about a lot of things very loudly that really don't mean too much right now."

Patton reports, "Beshear also noted that Kentucky has 'a big drug problem' and he doesn't want to do anything that 'will make that problem even worse'." Beshear's state police commissioner opposes the bill. (Read more)

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