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Comer to pitch hemp to auto execs

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said hemp fibers could make cars "greener."
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said hemp fibers could make cars "greener." Herald-Leader

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer will take his pitch for hemp to auto manufacturers on Thursday.

Comer will attend AutoConnect, an industry trade conference in Nashville sponsored by Frost Brown Todd. Executives from Toyota, Volkswagen, Nissan, Honda and others are expected to attend the event.

Comer hopes to meet with the executives to discuss using hemp, which he said has fibers that are "longer, stronger, lighter and greener" than other products currently used in the auto manufacturing process.

"It has been my goal to make the pitch for Kentucky-grown industrial hemp to automobile manufacturers," Comer said in a statement. "Now the opportunity is here and I believe this could be a win-win: a win for Kentucky farmers and a win for an industry working hard to find a more environmentally sound manufacturing process."

Some car makers in Europe use already hemp as a sustainable and biodegradable material in parts such as dashboards, soundproofing, and interior panels.

With federal restrictions eased on marijuana in some states, Comer said that Kentucky might plant hemp next year despite an advisory letter issued last month by Attorney General Jack Conway saying that farmers who do "will expose themselves to potential criminal liability and the possible seizure of property by federal or state law enforcement agencies."

Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, have requested explicit direction from the Justice Department on whether the Drug Enforcement Administration will prosecute farmers for growing hemp, since the DEA is not going to pursue marijuana growers in states where it is legal and regulated.

Comer hopes that building a market for hemp will spur action to clarify the legal situation. Legislation passed earlier this year by the General Assembly lets the Kentucky Department of Agriculture set up a licensing structure for farmers to grow hemp and Comer's office is working on those regulations.

"We are not deterred by political shenanigans on this issue," Comer said Tuesday. "This opportunity is real, and we need jobs and rural economic development in Kentucky. We are not playing games."

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