Kentucky ag chief says support for hemp is increasing statewide

jpatton1@herald-leader.comDecember 6, 2012 

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said he sees widespread support building in the General Assembly and across the state for legislation pushing industrial hemp.

Comer told the Kentucky Farm Bureau that hemp represents the only potential job-creation effort under discussion in Frankfort.

Afterward, Comer said that the state hemp commission, which he chairs, has received numerous offers to sponsor legislation. The commission meets Friday, and Comer said members will discuss potential legislation and the possibility of a new economic study to evaluate the hemp market.

In a separate interview, state Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said he supports legislation to move Kentucky to the forefront of potential hemp production. Hornback is widely expected to become the next chairman of the Senate agriculture committee. He said that if he is named chairman, he would call Comer's hemp bill for a vote.

It is unclear what the legislation would encompass; several states have endorsed hemp production, but under federal law, it can't be grown because it isn't distinguished from marijuana.

Comer said Thursday that for Kentucky farmers to really benefit, the state also needs to attract processing and manufacturing facilities, something he said has drawn interest from county executives around the state.

Leigh Maynard, chairman of the University of Kentucky agriculture economics department, said gauging how much farmers could benefit is difficult. With record corn prices, farmers might not want to switch to an unproven commodity without an established infrastructure.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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