Hemp bill shelved for now; Proponents suspect politics, which chairman denies

02/27/2013 12:16 PM

UPDATED 3:01 — The House Agriculture Committee chairman thrust into legislative limbo Wednesday afternoon the bill aimed at laying the groundwork for an industrial hemp industry.

Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthia and the panel’s chairman, had said at the end of a morning meeting devoted to the bill that he planned to continue debate and potentially take a vote on the measure Wednesday afternoon. But McKee convened the committee while the full House was in recess so that the committee could officially adjourn.

McKee made it clear Wednesday morning that he wants to avoid the panel voting on hemp bill, Senate Bill 50, as originally written. Instead, McKee has proposed a committee substitute that takes out the heart of the original measure — the regulatory structure for licensing growers and testing to make sure the cannabis crop being grown isn’t marijuana.

The committee took testimony from law enforcement officials who are dubious of the measure as well as proponents, including Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. After two hours, the clock ran out on the committee and McKee scuffled efforts by Republicans to pass the original version of Senate Bill 50.

Proponents say they’re still hopeful the original Senate Bill 50 will come up for a vote. But that will largely be in McKee’s hands, who has a lot of latitude as a committee chairman. And any bill needs at least 15 votes to pass the 28-member Ag Committee.

He told reporters that his goal is still to see the committee substitute that calls for further study of the hemp industry instead of the original version. Here’s a condensed version of the press gaggle with McKee:

Comer, a Republican, was joined in support of the bill by Democratic Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson and Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville, as well John Roulac, founder of California-based health food company Nutiva.

They held an impromptu press conference in which Comer said he’s confident Senate Bill 50 would have “near unanimous” support if McKee would allow a vote on it and would have broad support on the House floor.

Comer also said he didn’t suspect politics because several high-profile Democrats, including Webb, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville and former state Treasurer Jonathan Miller are publicly supporting it.

But several Republicans, including Hornback and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Rockfield, said they sensed politics at the heart of the dispute and insinuated that House Democratic leaders are opposed. Here are highlights of their reactions:

During the hearing, Kentucky State Police Maj. Tony Terry told the committee that law enforcement is mostly concerned about the difficulty in rooting out marijuana from hemp fields. He said that a potential loss of federal grant money for marijuana eradication efforts had nothing to do with their opposition.

McKee has said he is concerned that there’s not a market for hemp.

Roulac, the health food company CEO, said the industry “is not going to create 10,000 jobs” but will have plenty of demand. His company imports hemp from Canada to make its shelled hemp seeds, hemp oil and protein mix. Some of the products are now being sold at Costco and GNC.

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 ryan.alessi@twcnews.com.


  • Eye Opener wrote on February 27, 2013 08:37 PM :

    Mr. McKee, at one time there
    Wasn’t a market for coal but I’m sure you’ve heard of electricity
    wasn’t a market for electricity but I’m sure you’ve turned on your lights,
    wasn’t a market for gasoline but I’m sure you drive a car
    wasn’t a cellular network but I’m sure you have a cell phone
    Wasn’t a market for basketballs but I’m sure you’ve heard of Rupp Arena and 24,000 screaming fans

    Why should we wait for some other state to start and dominate the hemp market? For once in my damn life, I would love for you politicians stop playing politics and quit holding Kentucky back. Our state is a failure because YOU LEGISLATORS make it that way. You are our biggest roadblock stopping Kentucky growth.

  • Averitt wrote on February 28, 2013 02:04 AM :

    Hemp has been sensationalized. The truth is if the Feds and state allowed it to happen it would mean about 50 people working and the government would have to subsidize those. The only disgrace is that we are spending time debating it rather than dealing with issues that matter.

  • craig lee wrote on February 28, 2013 11:43 AM :

    Politics as usual, for Kentuckians, one more time.We stand and admire Henry Clay a prominent figure in Kentucky,and hemp farmer.
    We have 8-10 historical markers in the bluegrass region,a hempridge road, hempridge baptist church,all of these there because there was no market?The book “Reign of Law“by James Lane Allen, tells of the journeys on the hemp trails by farmers and people taking their hemp to MARKET.

    If history, is to be taught and learned,the lesson learned of industrial hemp, is that we can be the hemp seed breeder for the world. We could be supplying Colorado and Washington state as we speak,but again no market?Wal-Mart, State Beauty Salons,Whole Foods,Nutiva Nutritional Bar,Hemp Oil,Car Parts,Lip Balm Biodiesel,Green Coal, Biomass Cellulose for Ethanol, on and on but like others ,there is no market?There is not a MARKET for
    fossil fuels, if not drilled or dug,no market for houses, if not built,no market for rain, when living in the rain forest but…
    there is a market, for good visionary politicians, that are waiting in the wings to take over the existing market, that lay waist in our midst.Yes, a market exist for good politicians and a market exists for industrial hemp.Hemp!Hemp!Hooray

  • sam pierce wrote on February 28, 2013 11:50 AM :

    Our political system is broken when one stubborn partisan committee chair can defeat the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the members of the General assembly and the general public. Spite and partisan politics is written all over this debacle. I intend to do all I can to help defeat Tom McKee in next year’s election. He has outlived his usefulness as a legislator. Greg Stumbo might as well be our legislator, since Tom McKee only listens to Dictator Stumbo, and not the people of his district.

  • Bruce Layne wrote on February 28, 2013 12:47 PM :

    Tom McKee clearly does not believe in the free market. He thinks the Kentucky legislature needs to send representatives to Canada to study hemp to determine if it’s a viable crop before he and his cronies decide if they’ll allow the citizen farmers of Kentucky to grow hemp. Only the US outlaws hemp. Other countries such as Canada and China grow and sell hemp. It’s one of the oldest crops in human history. Obviously, there is a market, and Kentucky is missing out on that market because of big government bureaucrats like Tom McKee.

    My recommendations:

    1) Unelect obstructionist Tom McKee at the earliest opportunity.

    2) Put pressure on legislators for a discharge petition to get SB 50 out for a floor vote in its original form.

    3) Start a Hemp Farmer’s Legal Defense Fund so farmers around Kentucky can start to grow hemp. No permit, no fees, no taxes, no spot inspections. When the first farmer is arrested, take this issue before a jury. Fight it to the Kentucky Supreme Court. Hemp prohibition is dumber than dirt.

    My mom grew hemp in eastern Kentucky as part of the federal government’s Hemp For Victory program during WWII. Now it’s a felony? Are you kidding me?

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