FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear said Friday that he will allow a bill that would establish a legal framework for the growing of industrial hemp to become law without his signature.
At a press conference on an unrelated topic, Beshear said that he supported efforts to expand Kentucky's economy but he shared concerns of the law enforcement community that allowing the growing of hemp could hurt police efforts to crack down on marijuana cultivation, a close cousin of hemp. He would allow the bill to become law without his signature, he said.
"I strongly support efforts to create additional legal cash crops for our farm communities," Beshear said. "At the same time, we have a tremendous drug problem in Kentucky, and I want to make sure that we don't do anything that will increase that drug problem. I still share the same concerns our law enforcement officers have about the impact hemp cultivation may have on our drug eradication efforts."
The federal government must lift the ban on growing industrial hemp before a farmer could grow the crop that was once prominent in Kentucky, Beshear added.
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Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer — who pushed for the passage of Senate Bill 50 — said he and others, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, will urge the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue a waiver for Kentucky to start growing industrial hemp as soon as possible. Few waivers to grow industrial hemp have been granted in the United States.
Senate Bill 50 passed in the final hours of the 30-day legislative session last week. The 11th-hour compromise bill would give the Kentucky State Police the authority to do background checks on farmers who apply to grow hemp. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture will handle licenses and testing .
The University of Kentucky will also have a key role with research and development.
Supporters of Senate Bill 50 say that hemp could provide much-needed jobs and cash for Kentucky farmers if a federal ban on the growing of hemp is lifted.
But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and others questioned whether hemp production would create the jobs its backers said it would create. Stumbo ultimately voted for Senate Bill 50.