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McKee ties up hemp bill in House
Rep. Tom McKee - no vote on hemp in his committee

(Frankfort, KY) – February 27, 2013 - Hopes were high that Senate Bill 50, the bill authorizes cultivation of industrial hemp, which sailed through the Kentucky Senate on a bipartisan vote of 31 -6 would pass the Kentucky House.

Passage of the bill would be a first step to allowing Kentucky farmers to grow hemp and manufacturers to take advantage of a market dominated in the US by Canada. While hemp is illegal to grow in America, Canada exports millions of dollars worth of hemp products to its southern neighbor.

But first the legislation would have to pass through House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, chaired by Northern Kentucky Democrat Tom McKee (a full list of committee members follows this story).

Testimony from John Roulac, CEO of the fastest growing health foods company in the nation and small farmer and veteran Mike Lewis didn’t sway McKee. Neither did bi-partisan support from Commissioner of Agriculture Comer,  Senators Robin Webb, (D- Bracken, Lewis, Mason, Robinson, Carter and Greenup Counties) and Paul Hornbeck (R- Spencer, Shelby and Bullett Counties).

Objections to industrial hemp have been raised by law enforcement with worries that marijuana would be grown in hemp fields. Officers would not be able to tell the difference. Funding for increased scrutiny and additional training to enforce marijuana drug laws while allowing hemp to be grown legally is just not in the budget.

Members of law enforcement who testified in favor of the bill conceded Senate Bill 50 addresses many of their concerns.

When committee members moved for passage of the bill, McKee ruled them out of order and adjourned the meeting. McKee’s move didn’t sit well. The adjournment was met with boos from the audience.

McKee later said he would reconvene the meeting during a recess in the session for further action on the bill. That didn’t happen. Instead McKee adjourned the committee from his desk.

“I’m very disappointed in Chairman McKee,” Comer said. “The testimony today was overwhelmingly in favor of SB 50, and we clearly had the votes to pass this bill. This is a perfect example of everything wrong with Frankfort right now.”

The federal government will have to lift its ban on hemp before the crop can be legally grown again. Before interdiction of the plant, Kentucky led the nation in hemp production.

With attitudes toward hemp (and marijuana) shifting, supporters believe that lifting the ban is inevitable and not that far in the future. States with infrastructure and legislation in place for growing hemp and manufacturing it will have a head start on those who have not.

Commissioner Comer and supporters of Senate Bill 50 are not ready to throw in the towel.

Comer and Senator Hornbeck, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, scheduled a press conference for Thursday in the Capitol at 12:30 eastern time to discuss their next moves.

  House Ag & Small Business Committee members - with links to LRC biographical information. 


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