Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 23, 2013

Gaining support

State Chamber joins efforts to legalize industrial hemp

The Independent

ASHLAND — Industrial hemp’s steady march from the political fringes to the mainstream continues in Kentucky with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce becoming the most recent statewide organization to announce it will support legalization of industrial hemp provided there is adequate regulatory oversight.

Thus, the chamber joins the Kentucky Farm Bureau, Kentucky Agricultural Secretary James Comer, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie in supporting legalization of a crop that was once a major source of farm income in the state, but has been banned by federal law for decades because of its similarity in appearance to marijuana. Comer, a farmer who served in the Kentucky House of Representatives before being elected ag commissioner, touts hemp’s potential, saying Kentucky can become a hub of hemp production and manufacturing. The crop can be turned into paper, clothing, food, biofuel, lotions and other products, he said.

“We could be the Silicon Valley of industrial hemp manufacturing right here in Kentucky,” Comer said recently.

Maybe, but some huge obstacles remain. One is opposition to the legalization of industrial hemp by the Kentucky State Police and numerous local law enforcement officers.

State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer last month restated the agency’s opposition, saying law enforcement may have difficulty distinguishing between hemp and marijuana.

Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville is the lead sponsor of one of the hemp bills filed for consideration by the 2013 General Assembly. He admits state police opposition will be an obstacle, but added the state chamber’s support for legalizing the crop helps reshape the crop’s image.

The other major obstacle to a bill legalizing industrial hemp in Kentucky is a federal law banning the crop in all 50 states.

Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, chairman of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, said the federal ban is the biggest obstacle to the legalization of industrial hemp. As long as it exists, a state law to legalize the crop would be superseded by the federal ban. However, Paul has filed a bill in the U.S. Senate to lift the federal ban, and he has gained support of Massie, R-4th, who became a member of the U.S. House just days after he was elected to fill the remaining weeks of the term of former U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis and to a two-year House term in November.

It is too early to predict how the bills to legalize industrial hemp will fare in the 2013 General Assembly, and if efforts to lift the federal ban on the crop will be successful. However, it is clear the legalization of hemp — an idea the late Gatewood Galbraith advocated for years with no success — is no longer considered an extremist idea. In fact, it has moved into the mainstream.

That’s where it belongs. We have no way of guessing the commercial potential of industrial hemp, but its future as a cash crop should be determined by the marketplace and not a ban on a crop that has never gotten anyone “high.”