Law enforcement stirs the pot with concerns that hemp could undermine marijuana eradication

01/31/2013 08:08 PM

_Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on the debate over legalizing industrial hemp in Kentucky. _

Kentucky’s top cop said he opposes measures to allow hemp growing in Kentucky because of the prospect that it would jeopardize federal funding for marijuana eradication, would make aerial surveillance for marijuana more challenging and increase agencies’ regulatory responsibilities.

In his first extensive interview on the hemp issue, Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer laid out why law enforcement has emerged as the most prominent opponents to hemp legislation that has been steadily picking up support in Frankfort and Washington .

Advocates, led by state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, say that products that can be created from hemp — such as textiles, plastics and fuels — will bring big business to Kentucky. And business groups, such as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, have endorsed legislation in the 2013 General Assembly to create the regulatory framework for a hemp industry in Kentucky if the federal government lifts its long-standing ban on the plant.

Hemp is a form of the cannabis plant and shares the botanical classification and common traits with the Schedule I drug marijuana. Both types of cannabis contain the chemical THC, the psychoactive ingredient present in marijuana, but it’s much lower in hemp.

Brewer, who has led the state police for the last five years, said the mere presence of THC in hemp is enough to cause concern.

“The only way to discern between hemp and marijuana is through laboratory testing,” Brewer said. Here’s the first part of the interview:

Know your weed

Advocates insist that through careful breeding, hemp would look different than marijuana because growers bring out traits that would lead to better fibers.

And there are typically big differences in how marijuana and hemp are planted. Marijuana growers prefer to grow shorter, bushy plants with more leaves and buds. Therefore, they space their plants further apart. Hemp farmers cultivate tall plants with longer stalks, and thus grow them very closely together.

“There are distinct differences depending upon how you grow the product,” Brewer acknowledged. “The reason you grow the product different is just like any other agricultural product is because of the end result you want…”

Brewer went on to say that through a simple extraction method, hemp oil could be used for recreational drug use, but it would take more of the product to create a “high.”

“Yes it is possible, now is that a distinct a high? Do you have to smoke more, consume more? Obviously because the THC level is much lower,” Brewer went on to say.

And because law enforcement agencies search for illegal marijuana patches in rural areas by helicopter, Brewer said similarities between hemp and marijuana would make aerial surveillance even more difficult.

“If we walk through a field or fly over a field of hemp you can not distinguish with the naked eye between a marijuana plant or hemp plant,” Brewer said.

Green for green?

State law enforcement agencies pay for much of that surveillance and marijuana eradication efforts through federal enforcement grants.

In 2012, the Kentucky State Police, for instance, received three major grants from federal sources for marijuana eradication. The grants totaled $3.45 million, according to data Pure Politics received through an open records request.

Here is where the money comes from:

  • JAG – Which is a Justice Assistance Grant from the US Department of Justice gave $99,800.
  • The DEA contributed $1.25 million for eradication efforts, including almost $900,000 for aircraft rentals and $235,000 for overtime.

But those grants to the state police are only a portion of the total federal funding for marijuana eradication in Kentucky.

The Governor’s Marijuana Strike Force is an umbrella group for several state and federal agencies that work together on eradication efforts. Together the group discovered and eradicated 441,062 marijuana plants in 2012.

The task force is headed by the Kentucky State Police, and troopers work in conjunction with Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, the U.S. Marshals Service, the DEA, Forest Service, and the Kentucky National Guard, which all rely on federal funds as well.

Lt. Col. Bryan Howay of the Kentucky National Guard told Pure Politics in 2012 the guard spent nearly $5 million on eradication in Kentucky. It was mainly spent on aviation fuel and other resources, he said.

And that money could be in jeopardy if Kentucky’s government essentially endorses an industry the federal government still considers to be illegal, Brewer said Thursday.

“I think it’s almost a given that – I won’t say our grants will dry up — but i think we will certainly lose some federal funding depending on where this goes, if it’s legalized or whatever,” Brewer said. Here’s the full discussion about the agency’s grant money:

Regulators, mount up

Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville has filed Senate Bill 50 , which creates the regulations for industrial hemp once the federal government allows the product to be grown. The legislation, which the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission endorsed on Monday, requires that anyone wanting to grow hemp would have to be licensed by the state. They would have to pass a criminal background check, and submit GPS coordinates of their hemp fields, agree to inspections and pledge to grow a minimum of ten acres of the crop.

Brewer said he is concerned that testing of the crops to make sure they are hemp — and not marijuana — would strap the already tight state police budget. (5:15 of the first video). Brewer said it would cost $1.75 million to start-up a testing lab and $250,000 to $300,000 per year to operate it.

But on Monday the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission proposed changes to S.B. 50, which would put the burden of testing and inspecting for THC content in hemp at the feet of the Kentucky Agriculture Department, which is headed by Comer.

The Ag Department already is positioned to handle that because it already tests for chemicals in fields, Comer said at Monday’s hemp commission meeting, which law enforcement representatives didn’t attend.

“It’s unfortunate that law enforcement (representatives) are not here today because the bill has gained so much support across the state,” Comer said. “We are willing to work with law enforcement if they have concerns. We are willing to sit down with them. They have a seat at the table to make this bill better.”

(NOTE: Brewer also expressed a fear that someone could illicitly grow marijuana in a hemp field. Comer has repeatedly rebutted that saying, “industrial hemp is marijuana’s worst nightmare.” Coming Friday: A look at who’s right on the biological arguments.)

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm joined cn|2 in December 2011 as a reporter for Pure Politics. Throughout his career, Nick has covered several big political stories up close, including interviewing President Barack Obama on the campaign trail back in 2008. Nick says he loves being at the forefront of Kentucky politics and working with the brightest journalists in the commonwealth. Follow Nick on Twitter @Nick_Storm. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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Comments

  • David Adams wrote on January 31, 2013 11:53 PM :

    Instead of comparing marijuana to hemp we should compare it to alcohol. If you want a harmful, addictive, potentially lethal substance people ingest come down from your police helicopters and slide into the cooler aisle at any grocery store. Let’s quit pretending this has anything to do with protecting the public when it has everything to do with collecting and spending federal “drug war” grant money. These guys are laughing all the way to the bank trying to “eradicate” hemp. They might just as well declare war on cotton.

  • Bruce Layne wrote on February 01, 2013 10:01 AM :

    Sadly, many of the police operating at the enforcement level have been conned into the ridiculous belief that they’re helping to protect society by busting people for the nonviolent “crime” of marijuana use. This is a good example of how someone can be so immersed in a culture that they’re oblivious to the big picture. It’s also a great example of how humans are rationalizing animals. We can distort our views to justify almost any behavior we have, regardless of the facts.

    At the administrative level, I can’t imagine that there is such a noble justification. I think these people must know that they’re running a scam, victimizing innocent people who have harmed nobody by stealing their property through asset forfeiture on the bottom end of the scam, and cashing our drug task force federal tax checks flowing in at the top. They can’t seriously believe they’re saving our society from people who consume marijuana, watch TV, laugh, and eat Doritos and Ho Hos.

    I think I’m representative of a large and growing segment of our population who see through this scam and are sick of our tax dollars being squandered on the nonsensical war on marijuana that’s the real danger to our society. It’s filling our prisons with people we can’t afford to incarcerate, converting people into criminals after they’re tagged as felons and given few career options, and it’s growing big government to further abuse everyone’s rights in the war on some drugs. This war can never be won, but apparently, big government is unwilling to impose any limit on the amount of money that can be spent in the 100% unsuccessful attempt to eradicate marijuana use.

    The hemp issue is just the latest in the decades of increasingly ridiculous lengths to which the war on drugs syndicate will stoop to protect their cash cow. It’s shameful.

    The fact is, attempting to grow marijuana near a hemp field will result in marijuana cross pollinating and becoming hemp. Even if you believe in the futile attempt at marijuana eradication that’s done nothing to reduce marijuana use in several decades, it still makes no sense to continue to prohibit hemp cultivation.

    I don’t consume marijuana… or any other illicit substance, or alcohol, or nicotine… but I’m absolutely sick of the big government police state that’s grown up around marijuana prohibition to gobble up my tax dollars. As was the case with America’s failed attempt at alcohol prohibition, the failed efforts to prohibit marijuana are far more harmful to society than the marijuana ever was or ever would be. That far reaching harm has resulted in a prohibition on hemp, a valuable agricultural commodity.

    You needn’t read beyond the first sentence to see the real motivations behind the state law enforcement’s concerns about hemp – “jeopardize federal funding”. The Kentucky State Police have several million reasons to prevent Kentucky farmers from growing hemp, and many new Kentucky businesses from growing up to process, manufacture and distribute the many new hemp products.

    It’s difficult to believe that these drug warriors can advocate against hemp with a straight face. It’s impossible to believe that they could have any credibility with any tax payer, farmer or businessperson.

  • R B Clay wrote on February 01, 2013 10:34 AM :

    At the present time industrial hemp is not a viable commercial crop (I am a farmer, the family grew hemp for many years, last time in 1943 when the government paid us to)and it will take considerable R and D to make it one. Even then don’t hold your breath, hemp in many forms has hot competitors that can produce a better product, more cheaply. Because of its economic marginality I can only see this research as funded by the Government. Yet those who want to grow industrial hemp seem to be also those who want to downsize the government, for example by eliminating the Dept. of Agriculture (Sen. Paul). Seems to me the whole issue is a bogus one advanced by those who, principally, wish to get political attention. They are not helping me out as a farmer.

  • viewer wrote on February 01, 2013 10:49 AM :

    I think a bill should be passed in Frankfort that will wipe off a non-violent felony offense after ten years if the person commits no other offenses during this time. Ten years is enough time, and that will give the felon something positive to look forward to.

  • viewer wrote on February 01, 2013 12:03 PM :

    Mr. RB Clay,
    Are you tied in any way to the Clay Tobacco Warehouse? I would like to know your opinion about corporate America taking over industrial farming, and more importantly do you see problems with companies like Monsanto having patents on all the seeds? Genetics and DNA patents on cattle and chicken are also worrying me. You made some good points, but you also left out a lot to be desired. If you could, answer some of these questions. Thanks for your time.

  • Jerry wrote on February 01, 2013 01:23 PM :

    Mr. Adams comment proves what this bill is all about. A backdoor method to legalize pot cultivation by a bunch of Libertarians. Count this Republican as one who is very dissapointed in Comer and supports the State Police. I hope Col Howay continues to stand his ground against this stupidity.

  • Ken Moellman wrote on February 01, 2013 03:21 PM :

    So that there’s no misunderstanding, I will state at the beginning (for those that don’t know) that I am a Libertarian. I have never consumed marijuana, nor do I have any urge to do so.

    This issue has nothing to do with marijuana, any more than tomatos have to do with tobacco. They’re the same family of plant, yes. But they have different uses. Tomato plants contain trace amounts of nicotine, but there’s no mad rush to make tomato-plant-cigarettes.

    It would be more plausible to create tomato plant cigarettes, than it would to be to get high from industrial hemp. Industrial hemp contains a much higher level of CBD, a compound that specifically blocks the effects of THC in the brain. It also contains very, very little THC.

    Tobacco replaced hemp as Kentucky’s cash crop. Now, the tobacco farming industry has been decimated. Hemp may not be as viable as it once was, but giving farmers an option is not a bad thing. Some farmers will continue to grow tobacco. Some farmers might grow hemp. Some farmers might grow peppers (the ridiculous idea currently given to tobacco farmers as a “viable” alternative crop). It should be up to the particular farmer, competing in the market, to make that determination.

    Industrial hemp is not a “cure all” for Kentucky’s ills. It could be, however, a tool in the toolbox.

    I look forward to the next portion of this topic, dealing with the cross-pollination issue.

  • Jerry wrote on February 01, 2013 04:51 PM :

    Funny Ken, everytime you go to one of these pro hemp rallies all you see are pro marjuana legalization signs and groups that support the legalization of matijuana. Maybe they know something you don’t.

  • Kevin Hunt wrote on February 02, 2013 06:14 PM :

    Funny, Jerry..no one cares that you support the corrupt warpigs in their quest to deny the Farmers of Kentucky legitimate jobs. We will legalize this without your help.

    It’s quite possible that you get paid to eradicate ditchweed and that’s why you oppose hemp. Or, perhaps you work for big tobacco?

    Maybe we know something you don’t want us to know.

  • Jerry wrote on February 03, 2013 07:03 PM :

    Kevin,

    Your response is what I would expect of the Libertarian Lunatics that run around Ron and Rand Paul. Anytime you don’t follow the orthodoxy set out by Father Paul then the name calling starts. You’re just as bad as the lunatics on the far left, and worse in some ways. There is no such thing as a reasonable discussion with you people so why bother.

    I don’t support drug legalization in any way because I have seen the devastation it has caused in my family, included having a close family member murdered. So twist that as you will.

    What I do for a living is none of your business. I work hard and pay my taxes. I don’t have anything whatsoever to do with government, law enforcement, or agriculture. I do, however support those that are willing to enter public service and put their lives on the line to protect me and my property. So until you can get the state police onboard, forget it. I also donate a lot of my time and efforts to get Republicans elected, and I vote in every election. I will refuse to support any politician who votes to support this hemp nonsense.

    Why don’t you guys just be honest and try and get a bill passed to legalize marijuana if you believe in it so much? Probably because you know there is no way it will pass, so this hemp nonsense is the next best thing.

What do you have to say?





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