Hemp hearing could produce fireworks Wednesday as House version will remove regulatory framework

02/26/2013 08:28 PM

The House Agriculture Committee will take up a scaled-back version of an industrial hemp bill on Wednesday morning that removes nearly all of the language aimed at regulating and testing the crops.

The committee substitute is being pushed by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana. And it will set up a legislative skirmish between the chairman and supporters of the Senate version that includes Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who will testify on the legislation Wednesday.

The committee substitute to Senate Bill 50 will call for the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Experiment Station to conduct an economic impact study to find out how much of a market there will be for the crop. That’s on top of a similar study UK has begun at the direction of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, of which McKee is a member.

McKee’s version also calls for using $100,000 from the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Program Fund — the entire operating budget of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission — to pay for the new study.

The substitute proposal, which McKee provided to Pure Politics, already isn’t sitting well with the main proponent of the bill, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

“It’s a study on top of a study, which is really ridiculous,” Comer said in a statement through his chief of staff. “It’s an unfunded mandate for more study by another government agency.”

Comer and McKee spoke by phone about it shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Comer is expected to testify at the 8 a.m. hearing along with the original bill’s sponsor, Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, and Democratic Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson.

This sets up a political showdown of sorts between Comer and McKee — and by extension House leaders who have been skeptical of Senate’s version of the hemp bill. House members on Comer’s side can block the committee substitute. It would need at least 15 votes on the 28-member committee to be adopted. Along political lines alone, there are 13 Republicans.

McKee said the intent is not to water down efforts to legalize industrial hemp. He noted that the proposed committee substitute calls on the federal government to legalize the crop. But he said an existing statute — passed in 2001 — is all Kentucky needs in the event that the federal government gives the go-ahead to grow the crop. That statute, KRS 260.865, consists of one sentence:

Kentucky shall adopt the federal rules and regulations that are currently enacted regarding industrial hemp and any subsequent changes thereto.

McKee said the rest of the framework for monitoring hemp growers can be enacted through administrative regulations. The Senate version would have put into law that how hemp growers would be licensed and their fields checked by agriculture officials and police to make sure marijuana, another form of cannabis, wasn’t being grown.

“Our committee is supportive of industrial hemp,” McKee told Pure Politics Tuesday night. “We just want to make sure some questions are answered.”

McKee also prepared a memo for committee members that outlines the tenets of the bill. Also among them:

- Once the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration allows hemp growing permits, the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station would be required to get a permit to grow hemp on “demonstration fields” of at least five acres.

- Requires the economic study to be submitted to the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture by Nov. 29, 2013 and a final report by Jan. 7, 2014.

- “Encourages the president, Congress and Kentucky’s congressional delegation to amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp at a standard of 0.3 percent THC content.”

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.

Comments

  • jbd wrote on February 26, 2013 08:53 PM :

    McKee is an embarrassment to Kentucky. I live in his district and I am ashamed to say I voted for him. That will never happen again!

  • Craig wrote on February 26, 2013 10:27 PM :

    Time for the Senate to gut Edelen’s special districts bill.

  • sam pierce wrote on February 27, 2013 11:35 AM :

    I also live in McKee’s district as jbd does. I voted against him in both 2010 and 2012. I hope many other voters in the 78th house district see that McKee gets his marching orders from Greg Stumbo and not the voters in his district. I heard McKee on our local WCYN “Coffee Break” show yesterday, and I knew that his substitute bill had Greg Stumbo written all over it. Why doesn’t any of the house committee chairmen stand up to Dictator Stumbo? The only way to end one-man rule in the state house is to elect a Republican house in 2014. McKee needs to be ousted. As vice-chairman of the Harrison County Republican Party, I welcome jbd, and all others who have become disenchanted with McKee, to join us.

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