By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The struggle with hemp legislation (Senate Bill 50) in the latest Kentucky state legislative session ended with passage of the bill; the only question was whether Gov. Steve Beshear would sign it.
Last Friday, he issued a brief statement saying he would allow the bill to become law without his signature.
“I strongly support efforts to create additional legal cash crops for our farm communities. At the same time, we have a tremendous drug problem in Kentucky, and I want to make sure that we don’t do anything that will increase that drug problem. I still share the same concerns our law enforcement officers have about the impact hemp cultivation may have on our drug eradication efforts,” he said.
“The bottom line is that Senate Bill 50 won’t allow industrial hemp to be grown or sold unless and until the federal government takes the very big step of legalizing the crop in some way. If that happens, we will have time to work with the legislature and law enforcement to make any further changes necessary to ensure the public’s safety and alleviate those concerns.
“Therefore, I am allowing SB50 to become law without my signature.”
Support in the General Assembly was overwhelming. The bill creates an administrative framework for the state should federal restrictions against hemp be lifted or if Kentucky is granted a waiver to produce the crop.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who helped lead the charge for passage, said those who support industrial hemp eventually moved the legislation through. “This shows what can happen when the people get behind positive legislation that has the potential to create jobs and opportunity for Kentucky,” he said.
“Six months ago, industrial hemp was on nobody’s radar. Now, S.B. 50 will become the law of the Commonwealth. I’m grateful to all the people – legislators, farmers, businesspeople, Republicans, Democrats – who made their voices heard on this issue, and to (state) Senator Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) for taking a chance and sponsoring the bill.”
The next step is to send a delegation to Washington, D.C., to discuss the possibility of a waiver for the state.
According to information from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which would administratively manage the production of hemp: “The legislation calls for hemp demonstration projects by the University of Kentucky and other public universities that choose to participate. Under the bill, the Kentucky State Police are required to conduct background checks on applicants for licenses to grow industrial hemp.”