Senate Republicans talk hemp with Comer, state police

jpatton1@herald-leader.comFebruary 6, 2013 

FRANKFORT — Senate Republicans heard Wednesday from Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Kentucky State Police Rodney Brewer on the pros and cons of industrial hemp.

Comer said afterward that the meeting was "positive." Brewer said the senators "asked some good questions and we gave them the best information we could."

A vote on Senate Bill 50, sponsored by state Senate Agriculture Chairman Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, is expected at Monday's hearing, where three U.S. legislators — Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green; Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg; and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville — will testify in support, along with Comer and other advocates.

State Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, said Wednesday that the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, which he chairs, will hear next Wednesday a competing version of legislation sponsored by Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, to license farmers to grow hemp. McKee said he doesn't know whether a vote will be taken or who will speak. He said amendments are possible.

The main difference between the bills is the regulatory structure: The House bill puts it under the jurisdiction of the state police, and the Senate version puts it under the state Department of Agriculture.

State police estimated that additional testing of hemp to make sure it is not marijuana could cost $300,000 a year, plus $1.8 million in start-up costs to run a $750 quantitative analysis on each sample.

Comer said Wednesday that his department could conduct the same test for $20 a sample. "We can do it without one additional person or one additional penny of tax dollars," Comer said.

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

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