Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Ky. House panel OKs industrial-hemp bill

UPDATE, March 27: The legislature passed a compromise bill that calls for the state to seek a federal waiver for hemp demonstration projects to be conducted public universities. "It is unclear whether the governor might veto the bill," Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

The Republican-pushed bill to regulate industrial hemp in Kentucky, if federal officials allow it to be grown legally, came an important step closer to passage yesterday but appears likely to fall short because of opposition from the legislature's top Democrat -- in an alliance with the senior Republican in the state's congressional delegation.

The House Agriculture Committee approved Senate Bill 50 with only one dissenting vote, but "Speaker Greg Stumbo said it is unlikely to reach the House floor for a vote," Greg Hall reports for The Courier-Journal. Stumbo said a fee provision in the bill, as a revenue measure, must originate in the House.

Stumbo has other reasons to oppose the bill. He is from Eastern Kentucky, and a federally funded anti-drug agency in the region stands to lose funding if a hemp industry drove marijuana production indoors, a largely urban phenomenon that is closer to most of the drug's consumers. The agency, Operation UNITE, was founded by the region's congressman, Republican Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The main proponent of the bill is Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, the only Republican in statewide constitutional office and a possible candidate for governor in 2015. Before Stumbo thre cold water on the bill, Comer said, “It’s going to be very difficult for the House not to let this bill be voted on now, because we’re three-quarters of the way there and the support is overwhelming.” A recent poll showed about two-thirds of Kentuckians favor the legislation. (Read more)

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