FRANKFORT, KY — A poll released last week shows that a strong majority of Kentucky voters support the cultivation of hemp by local farmers, and want to allow medical marijuana in the Bluegrass State.
The poll, conducted by Survey USA, found an overwhelming 65% of Kentucky voters support legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp by farmers. The survey reported every individual demographic group supporting industrial hemp, including 53 percent of conservatives and 54 percent of seniors.
Kentucky once was a leading producer of industrial hemp, which the government encouraged farmers to grow during World War II when other industrial fibers were scarce. But the leafy crop hasn’t been grown in the U.S. for decades, ever since the federal government classified hemp as a controlled substance related to marijuana.
Earlier this month, a Kentucky Senate committee approved legislation to regulate industrial hemp production if the now-illegal crop gains a federal reprieve, a step encouraged by such supporters as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former CIA director James Woolsey.
Bills being proposed in Congress would remove the federal restrictions on hemp production, and have support of Kentucky’s congressional delegation, including Senator Rand Paul, who has said he also would seek a federal waiver to allow for a resumption of hemp production in Kentucky if the legislation stalls.
U.S. retail sales of hemp products exceed $400 million per year, but all hemp must currently be imported from other countries. The United States remains the only industrialized nation in the world to prohibit the cultivation of hemp. Dozens of countries produce hemp commercially, and most imported hemp is grown in Canada and Europe.
Allowing the use of medical marijuana also scored high in the poll, with 60% responding in support of legalizing physician authorized use of cannabis. For the second session in a row, the Kentucky legislature is considering a medical marijuana bill, although it has not been scheduled for a legislative hearing.
If passed, Senate Bill 11, the Gatewood Galbraith Medical Marijuana Memorial Act, would allow patients with a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of serious medical conditions, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, among others.
The proposal seeks to establish a network of state-regulated dispensaries where qualified patients could obtain medical marijuana if authorized by their physician. Registered patients and their caretakers could also elect to grow their own under the proposal.
The bill specifies that patients or caregivers could possess up to six ounces of marijuana and up to 12 mature and 12 immature plants.
The measure bears its name after longtime Kentucky attorney and cannabis advocate Gatewood Galbriath, who passed away last year. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee , but has yet to be schedule for a hearing.
Last year, former chair of the Senate Judicial Committee, Sen. Tom Jensen (R-Jackson), refused to call the measure before committee, effectively killing the bill. The committee is now chaired by Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville).
The poll also found that a growing number of voters support the legalization of marijuana for adults, with almost 40% in favor. While not quite a majority of voters, the result shows growing support for legalization, even in the conservative southern states.