Kentucky would be able to quickly license hemp growers if the federal government ever lifts a ban on the crop under a measure approved by the state Legislature on Tuesday.
“We have, in my opinion, put together a strong bill,” said House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Catlettsburg. “We will be on the cutting edge and be ready to hit the ground running.”
The measure passed the House 88-4 late Tuesday night. Minutes later, it passed the Senate 35-1. It now goes to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear who hasn’t said whether he will sign it into law.
Once a politically taboo idea, growing hemp has become an increasingly popular idea among Kentucky’s elected leaders. Senate Republicans pushed the legislation, which was initially frowned upon by House Democrats.
Hemp thrived in Kentucky generations ago but has been banned for decades since the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has said the crop could be an economic boon for Kentucky. Besides creating another crop for the state’s farmers, Comer said hemp could lead to manufacturing jobs that produce products ranging from paper to cosmetics.
“By passing this bill, the General Assembly has signaled that Kentucky is serious about restoring industrial hemp production to the commonwealth and doing it in the right way,” Comer said in a statement. “That will give Kentucky’s congressional delegation more leverage when they seek a federal waiver allowing Kentucky farmers to grow hemp.”
The bill was unpopular with law enforcement officials. They say hemp could be used to camouflage marijuana, which has identical leaves but far less potency. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Under the bill, the state would have GPS coordinates of licensed hemp fields. Hemp growers would undergo criminal background checks, and each grower would be limited to 10 acres per license.
Comer has championed the hemp bill, saying its reintroduction would give farmers a new crop and would create processing jobs to turn the fiber and seeds into products ranging from paper to biofuels. Dozens of countries already produce the crop.
The legislation is Senate Bill 50.