Hemp bill: 'We've tentatively reached an agreement'

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMarch 26, 2013 

Industrial hemp in Manitoba, Canada. The yellow flowered plants are volunteer canola ( meaning the field was sown to canola the previous year and these are plants that grew from seed that fell on the ground at harvest.) Laura Rance/Manitoba Co-operator

FRANKFORT — After meeting for two hours Tuesday morning with Kentucky House Democratic leaders, state Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said a deal is very close on the hemp bill.

"We've tentatively reached an agreement," Hornback said.

Hornback said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, must sign off on one "very small piece of language" that would move administrative functions of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission back to the state Department of Agriculture.

If that happens, Hornback said, the hemp bill "will be called for a vote today and pass."

New language also clarifies the Kentucky State Police's role in the licensing of Kentucky farmers possibly to grow hemp if federal officials allow it.

"KSP's only role in licensing is criminal background checks," Hornback said. Those would be paid for by the commission, with a fee set by the commission.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a major hemp backer, also has signed off on the deal, Hornback said. Comer offered to step aside from any leadership role in the hemp commission to facilitate the deal; it isn't clear whether that will be in the final language. The commission apparently will select its own chairman.

Another clarification is the role that the University of Kentucky agriculture research station would play.

Under some versions, the hemp commission with licensing authority was assigned to the school. And several research projects were mandated, although there was no clear funding mechanism.

Hornback said that UK lobbyist Steve Byars, director for government relations, told House leaders Tuesday morning that "UK does not want to be in charge of the permitting. Anything else, UK would do what the legislature directs them to do, is their stance."

Hornback said unfunded mandates have been removed but that UK remains the lead research institution if the DEA grants a permit or issues a waiver to Kentucky to grow hemp.

The House is scheduled to come back into session at 1:30 p.m.

Tuesday is the last day of the legislative session, so they must take action or the bill dies.

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

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