Hemp Commission meets for 1st time in a decade; Starts planning ways to give industry a head start in Ky.

11/14/2012 04:33 PM

Kentucky could get the extra revenue it’s looking for — not through increased taxes — but through the legalization of the hemp industry that could be an economic boon to the state, said members of the newly re-constituted Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer kicked off the first meeting of the Industrial Hemp Commission in nearly 10-years to a packed conference room in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture headquarters Wednesday.

Comer told the media and members of the commission that the number one priority of the Agriculture Department is to position Kentucky to be the first state to allow hemp farming once the federal government gives it the green light. Comer wants Kentucky’s General Assembly to pass legislation laying the groundwork for the industry in the event that Congress lifts its decades-old ban on the plant.

Law enforcement agencies have been most reluctant about allowing hemp because it is part of the cannibas genus of plants, along withe marijuana. Comer has said in interviews that with strict state regulation, law enforcement would be able to ensure hemp fields aren’t used to cover marijuana plants.

The state-sanctioned commission re-started without costing taxpayers a dime.

Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is helping the Commission with a $50,000 contribution from his political action committee, RANDPAC. A California-based soap maker, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, is matching the donation with $50,000. Paul is also working to pass laws at the federal level allowing Kentucky to grow hemp.

The Hemp Industries Association estimates that U.S. retail sales of hemp products exceeded $452 million in 2011, although all the hemp used to make those products are imported.

Eric Steenstra of the national non-profit organization Vote Hemp said it’s not fair that U.S. farmers are losing out to other nations like Canada because of legislation.

“We’re already importing hundreds of millions of dollars of product from Canada, from Europe, from China, and it just doesn’t seem right that American farmers, Kentucky farmers should be denied the right to do that,” said Steenstra.

David Bronner of Bronner’s Magic Soaps said he spends more than $100,000 on organic hemp oil from Canada, but wants to be the first company to sell hemp products made using hemp grown in the U.S.

Bronner’s said his business has annual sales exceeding $50 million. And while buying U.S. Hemp could cost less than importing from Canada, he would be willing to buy 10 times as much.

The 19-member commission will work on drafting legislation to suggest to state lawmakers and work on public outreach.

The group includes legislators (Republican Sen. John Schickel of Union and Democratic Rep. Richard Henderson of Jeffersonville) as well as the Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, a professor in the UK Agriculture Department, a Kentucky tobacco farmer, a member of the Kentucky State Police, Hemp growers co-op and several other interested parties appointed by the House Speaker and Senate President.

Comer said the Commission is slated to meet every quarter. But he said he wanted to bring the group back together soon to discuss potential legislation for the upcoming 2013 session in January.


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