Comer says hemp bill has the votes to pass House; McKee says he wants 'facts' first

02/19/2013 12:02 PM

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer met Tuesday with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom McKee in hopes of easing McKee’s concerns and uncertainty about the bill that would lay the groundwork for a hemp industry in Kentucky.

Comer said an effort to avoid a committee vote or delay the implementation of a regulatory framework for the industry by changing the bill to study the industry are the only obstacles in the way of Senate Bill 50’s passage.

“I think the votes are clearly there in the House Agriculture Committee. And they’re there on the floor too. I believe we have over 60 votes on the floor too,” Comer said, adding that he’s counting those who won’t say their position as “no” votes.

Comer also expressed his frustration that some, including McKee and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, have said they want to see more studies of what kind of economic impact the industry could have. Comer said there’s no downside to laying down the regulatory framework in the event the federal government gives the go ahead to allow the plant to be grown.

“We’re willing to negotiate. But all they want to do is study it,” Comer said. Here’s what he told reporters:

McKee, a Cynthiana Democrat, said his committee will take up Senate Bill 50 at its Feb. 27 meeting but hasn’t yet decided whether to change the bill and call for a study of the economic effects of the hemp industry. Growing hemp has been banned by the federal government since World War II because it is the same type of plant as marijuana.

“We possibly will look at a committee sub. We’ve got some members who have concerns. Nothing is certain at this point — except the hearing,” McKee said. “I want to listen to what we hear on Wednesday, and I think there’s maybe an educational component that can be added to the bill.”

McKee, speaking to reporters after the announcement in the Capitol of a five-year agricultural plan, said he doesn’t want to close the door on any potentially viable plant but wants to see more facts. The University of Kentucky currently is conducting such a study at the request of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission.

McKee hinted that getting the information to make him feel comfortable might be tough to do before the end of this year’s 30-day session, which hits its halfway mark Wednesday.

“It’s going to be pretty hard probably, but we can work on some of those answers,” he said.

McKee also said the debate has become “polarizing” and specifically cited the difference in cost between testing hemp plants for content of THC, the chemical in marijuana that contains psychedelic properties. The Kentucky State Police has said testing would be costly for the agency, but Comer has said the Department of Agriculture already has the lab infrastructure in place and can do it at minimal cost.

The five-year plan for the agriculture industry, which attracted Comer and McKee and Gov. Steve Beshear among other officials, included a reference to hemp as a crop that could potentially help Kentucky farmers diversify.

Gov. Steve Beshear told reporters Tuesday that he’s still not fully on board even though the agriculture industry is behind the effort to lay the groundwork for the industry.

“Hemp is certainly a possible example of diversification. We’ve got two issues we need to address there. One is a market issue: Is there a market for it? … Then there are law enforcement issues. And we need to solve both of those before we move ahead,” Beshear said.

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He has covered politics for more than 10 years, including 7 years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Follow Ryan on Twitter @cn2Alessi. Ryan can be reached at 502-792-1135 or


  • William Flaherty wrote on February 19, 2013 01:37 PM :

    Ryan, I have a question concerning a comment in your article.

    You state that “Growing hemp has been banned by the federal government since World War II because it is the same type of plant as marijuana.”

    If I’m not mistaken, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed in the United States. It levied a tax on anyone who dealt commercially in cannabis, hemp, or marijuana supposedly due to its harmful effect on the human mind and body. I’ll ignore the harmful affect hemp had on William Randolph Hearst’s business interests. The United States military begged farmers to grow hemp for the war effort; the demand was so high that the federal government was granting deferments to those that grew the crop. However, as soon as the war was over, growing hemp was again against the law.

  • Cat Balz wrote on February 19, 2013 01:44 PM :

    McKee will get the facts when Greg Stumbo gives them to him.

  • viewer wrote on February 19, 2013 01:52 PM :

    Friends for hemp. Get intouch with Mitch and see if he can send $5 million per year to the drug task force to help fight the drug crisis we have in Ky. He is good at finding money for the pill company Amgen ( $500,000.00 ) in the debt ceiling bill. HE finds money for the oil companies. He finds money for the banking system. He finds money for the insurance companies. If he wants this , he can find money here too. KSP is fighting pills, heroin , meth , and coke on the streets. They are under funded with the money they get now. No way they could survive losing what they get now. The only thing this has to do with pot is how the federal gov gives grants for cutting down pot. The state police wish that pot was all they had to worry about. Im for hemp , but not if the KSP loses the federal dollars to fight the drug crisis all across the state. Between Mitch and Hal Rogers there shouldnt be a problem to find the money. If it takes a year , it takes a year. IMO

  • Phil Moffett wrote on February 19, 2013 04:42 PM :

    Where is the Commonwealth’s constitution does it require elected officials be convinced there is a viable market for any product before it can be produced in Kentucky?

  • sam pierce wrote on February 20, 2013 10:45 AM :

    All the preceding commenters make good points. I fear that Cat Balz is correct, but I hope McKee will listen to his constituents first and allow the bill to come to a vote so that Kentucky will be in a position to take the lead if industrial hemp is legalized within the next year. Phil Moffett is correct in implying that there is no place in Kentucky’s constitition requiring elected officials to be convinced about a viable market before it can be produced here. I agree with Viewer that Mitch and Hal Rogers should obtain more money for drug enforcement. Perhaps they could obtain the money from that corrupt lawyer and judge I read about in the Lexington Herald today who conspired to make millions by allowing every Joe, Frank, and Lucy in eastern Kentucky to get disability.

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