Pubdate: Fri, 01 Feb 2013
Source: Richmond Register (KY)
Copyright: 2013 Associated Press
Author: Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
Page: A2


LOUISVILLE ( AP) - Efforts to re-establish industrial hemp in the 
state where it once flourished won support Thursday from U. S. Senate 
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said its legalization would 
benefit farmers and produce jobs to convert the plants into products.

Hemp supporters trumpeted the timely thumbs-up from Kentucky's most 
powerful Republican.

It comes amid a lobbying campaign by hemp backers and detractors 
before state lawmakers resume their regular 2013 session next week in 

"I am convinced that allowing its production will be a positive 
development for Kentucky's farm families and economy," McConnell said 
in a statement. "The utilization of hemp to produce everything from 
clothing to paper is real and if there is a capacity to center a new 
domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these 
difficult economic times, that sounds like a good thing to me."

The Kentucky Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to review 
legislation Feb. 11 to strictly regulate industrial hemp production 
in the Bluegrass state if the federal government lifts its 
decades-long ban on the crop.

A spokesman for McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said he 
supports a "federal solution" to re-establish hemp and is discussing 
the best strategy with fellow Republican U. S. Sen. Rand Paul of 
Kentucky and others.

Paul has pushed for federal legislation to lift restrictions on hemp. 
Another option is to seek a federal waiver allowing Kentucky to grow 
the crop. McConnell said he took his pro-hemp stand after discussions 
with Paul and state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who has 
championed the cause and revived a hemp commission.

Comer, a Republican, said Thursday that McConnell's support "adds 
immeasurable strength" to the campaign.

Kentucky once was a leading producer of industrial hemp, a tall, 
leafy plant that thrived in the state's climate and soils. During 
World War II, the U. S. government encouraged farmers to grow hemp 
for the war effort because other industrial fibers were in short supply.

But the crop hasn't been grown in the U. S. for decades, since the 
federal government moved to classify hemp as a controlled substance 
related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, 
cannabis sativa, but are genetically distinct. Hemp has a negligible 
content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Hemp can be turned into paper, clothing, food, biofuels, auto parts, 
lotions and other products.

U. S. retail sales of hemp products exceeded $ 400 million last year, 
according to industry estimates. At least 30 countries produce hemp 
commercially, and most of the hemp imported into the U. S. is grown 
in China, Canada and Europe.

Hemp supporters in Kentucky see an opportunity to make the state a 
hub for production and processing, if the state acts quickly.

But the campaign to reintroduce hemp has drawn opposition from some 
law enforcement groups, led by Kentucky State Police.

State police Commissioner Rodney Brewer attended a hemp commission 
meeting late last year, and said he was concerned that law 
enforcement would have a hard time distinguishing between hemp and marijuana.

McConnell said Thursday that he was assured by Comer that the 
agriculture department would pursue production "in a way that does 
not compromise Kentucky law enforcement's marijuana eradication 
efforts or in any way promote illegal drug use."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom