Lexington likely to endorse legalizing hemp

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council will consider an endorsement of efforts to legalize industrial hemp.

The resolution gets a first reading at the council meeting Thursday, when representatives of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture will address the group.

The measure, which has city leaders' overwhelming support, asks the General Assembly to "consider adopting legislation which would allow for industrial hemp growth and production while addressing any public safety and law enforcement concerns."

The resolution, which will be forwarded to Gov. Steve Beshear, Senate President Robert Stivers, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and others, likely will be approved next week in advance of a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Feb. 11 on Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Chairman Paul Hornback, R-Georgetown.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer; Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green; and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, will testify on behalf of the bill, which would license Kentucky farmers to grow industrial hemp if federal restrictions are lifted.

Yarmuth and Paul plan to ask for a waiver from President Obama to let Kentucky grow hemp if the bill passes. Hornback has said he expects it will pass the committee and likely the Senate, but reception in the House is uncertain.

The federal government has outlawed hemp along with marijuana, both Cannabis sativa. Paul has co-sponsored a federal bill to distinguish between them based on their level of THC, the drug in marijuana.

Although hemp has received widespread support across the state and has been endorsed by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, law enforcement groups oppose efforts to set up a licensing system.

Operation UNITE and the Kentucky Narcotics Officers Association announced on Monday that they oppose Senate Bill 50 and House Bill 33, saying legal hemp could be costly for law enforcement. They also expressed reservations that legalizing hemp might be the first step to legalizing marijuana.

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