A Kentucky Senate committee approved legislation this week to regulate industrial hemp production if the now-illegal crop gains a federal reprieve, a step encouraged by supporters led by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and former CIA director James Woolsey.
Supporters appearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee touted hemp’s potential as an alternative crop for farmers and as a job creator in processing the crop and turning it into a range of products that include paper, clothing, auto parts, biofuels, food and lotions.
Kentucky once was a leading producer of industrial hemp, a tall, leafy plant the government once encouraged farmers to growing during World War II when other industrial fibers were in short supply. Bu 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.
“I’m not up here saying this is the panacea that next year everybody is going to work for a hemp farmer,” said Paul, a Kentucky Republican who wore a shirt made of hemp material. “But why not legalize something that could produce jobs and probably will.”
Woolsey said he became a hemp advocate because of the crop’s potential to boost rural economies. Other hemp supporters who promoted the crop during the committee hearing were U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. U.S. retail sales of hemp products exceed $400 million per year. Dozens of countries produce hemp commercially.
The bill won unanimous committee approval despite the continued concerns of Kentucky State Police, the state’s leading law enforcement agency.
State police Commissioner Rodney Brewer said his main concern was the inability of law enforcement to detect the difference between hemp and marijuana, its much more potent relative.