Governor still considering hemp bill

Associated PressApril 2, 2013 

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear has until Saturday to sign or veto a bill that would open the door to industrial hemp farming in Kentucky. He hasn't said what he'll do.

The General Assembly passed the bill March 26 in the final minutes of this year's legislative session, giving the governor 10 days, excluding Sundays, to veto it, according to the Legislative Research Commission.

The bill would allow Kentucky farmers to grow hemp if the federal government lifts its decades-long ban on the plant. Hemp can be used to make products ranging from paper to cosmetics.

It thrived as a crop in Kentucky for generations before it was classified as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Although hemp is similar to marijuana, it has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Some law enforcement officials have expressed concerns about the bill, saying marijuana growers could use hemp to camouflage the illegal drug. But proponents say marijuana growers would avoid planting it near hemp because the drug could lose its potency.

"The governor has not given any indication about his decision," spokeswoman Kerri Richardson told The Associated Press in an email Monday. "He has said he'll consult with law enforcement before taking any action."

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Monday that he had contacted Beshear "and urged him to sign the hemp bill into law because I believe it is the right thing to do for Kentucky jobs and agriculture."

Thayer said Beshear had not given him any indication of his plans.

Meanwhile, Kentucky's U.S. senators, Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, have said the General Assembly's passage of the bill will help them pressure the federal government to relax hemp restrictions. A bill to legalize industrial hemp is pending in Congress. Paul has said he will ask the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to give Kentucky and other states a waiver to cultivate hemp.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer called Beshear last week to urge the governor to sign the bill, according to Holly VonLuehrte, Comer's chief of staff. VonLuehrte said Comer talked to Beshear about the potential economic growth hemp farming could bring to Kentucky.

Herald-Leader business writer Janet Patton contributed to this report.

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