FRANKFORT — After testimony from a bevy of high-level supporters, the state Senate agriculture committee unanimously approved Monday a bill that would establish oversight for Kentucky industrial hemp farmer if hemp were made legal federally.
Agriculture Commission James Comer—the leading proponent of industrial hemp in Kentucky—recruited U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie and John Yarmuth to speak in favor of the bill at the committee, as well as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. But the bill has opposition from many law enforcement agencies, including the Kentucky State Police and Operation UNITE, a federally-funded program.
The crop could create jobs in Kentucky in agriculture and other industries through hemp's use as a strong material, said Comer, a Republican. The legislative approved in committee Monday, Senate Bill 50, is Comer's chief legislative priority.
But Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer told legislators his concerns that illegal marijuana would be grown in hemp fields without hemp farmers knowing. He also said that testing whether a plant was hemp or marijuana would be expensive and taxing on a state lab that is already overburdened.
The bill has a provision that all hemp fields would be targeted with a global positioning system—allowing law enforcement to know what's hemp and what's not. Brewer had his doubts.
"Even today with GPS coordinates when we locate a field—for whatever reason we may want to go back to later, because of surveillance or whatever—we sometimes have difficulty even finding that field," Brewer said.
In response, Paul told the committee that he thought any law enforcement issues could be resolved.
Speaking to the committee, former CIA director James Woolsey dismissed those claims. A drug dealer who would plant marijuana next to hemp would have to be "stupid and high already" to do so, and he called GPS tracking revolutionary for hemp issues, said Woolsey, who led the CIA in the Clinton administration. Other hemp supporters testified that hemp farmers wouldn't risk the chance of growing marijuana and losing their farms.
Yarmuth and Massie—a Democrat and Republican, respectively—told the committee they support the bill for economic reasons, even though there aren't many farms in Yarmuth's Third Congressional district in Louisville.
Massie likened the need for hemp in Kentucky as the first online auction retailer, saying everyone remembers eBay, but not the second online auctioneer.
And Paul told the committee he believes any issues with law enforcement could be worked out.
"I think those that have come here who have concerns, they're valid, they're sincere, they can really trying to look at this, but I think there's nothing here that's not overcomeable," said Paul, a Republican.
The bill would allow Comer's department to regulate and license farmers for hemp. They would also be in control of monitoring fields and testing the hemp to make sure it's not marijuana.
On the federal level, Paul, Massie and Yarmuth are pushing a bill to legalize hemp, which is currently banned under DEA regulations. If the federal bill doesn't pass, Paul has said he would push for a waiver for Kentucky to grow hemp.
The bill now moves to the state Senate floor, where it is expect to pass. It's prospect are dimmer in the state House. House Speaker Greg Stumbo—a Democrat and former state attorney general—has said the issue needs more study.