Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner-elect James Comer is planning to support legislation to allow industrial hemp farming.
The bill has been pre-filed in the General Assembly to legalize the controversial practice. Comer supports the measure and says he will make it part of his legislative package once he takes office next week. But a federal waiver would still be required before hemp farming could begin.
Comer is prepared to fight for a waiver.
“Once the bill passes and becomes law in Kentucky, then I will go with Senator [Rand] Paul and a group of our federal delegation to Washington and try to get Kentucky to be able to have a pilot project to grow industrial hemp,” he says.
A bill that was passed and signed into law a decade ago allows the University of Kentucky to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. Comer says research is no longer necessary, and wide-scale farming will be an economic boon for tobacco growers who are looking to diversify their farms.
Comer will also support legislation to make him the head of the hemp commission. The panel was formed ten years ago as part of the legislation allowing research farming, but the panel hasn’t met or chosen a leader.
Governor Steve Beshear says he does not support industrialized hemp farming based on objections from the law enforcement community. Comer says such concerns are misguided.
“Opponents of it say law enforcement wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana. That’s like saying I couldn’t tell the difference between Johnson grass and corn. It’s not true,” he says.
Further, Comer says concerns that farmers would grow marijuana in their industrial hemp fields are unfounded, as growing the two crops in the same field would lead to cross pollination and ruin yields.