FRANKFORT, KY — Despite passing the State Senate, endorsements from both of Kentucky’s US Senators, and pressure from the state’s largest agricultural organizations, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo has indicated that a bill that would allow the state’s farmers to grow industrial hemp – not marijuana – will not receive a vote in House this year.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo indicated Monday morning that time has run out on Senate Bill 50, which would set up a system to license hemp growers if production becomes allowed by the federal government.
Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would set up a licensing framework for Kentucky farmers to grow hemp, but only if federal restrictions are lifted.
Stumbo argues hat Kentucky should wait for federal action on industrial hemp before adopting a bill that might later need to be revoked or changed to conform to federal regulations.
“If we move ahead with Senate Bill 50,” Speaker Stumbo said Monday, “we could very well put in place something that would not be aligned with the federal regulations.”
Speaker Stumbo added that he also continues to believe the Senate legislation should have started in the House, as the state Constitution calls for on any revenue-raising measure.
“The bill clearly states that the commissioner shall ‘establish the fee amount of the industrial hemp grower license,’” Speaker Stumbo said. “If that is not raising revenue, then I don’t know what is.”
The Senate already passed the bill, which has overwhelming support among Kentucky farmers and voters.
The bill was approved by a House committee last week, and needs only a vote on the floor of the House to advance to the Governor for approval.
Kentucky’s Commissioner on Agriculture, a Republican who has pushed for the bill’s passage, said last week that public attention on the bill should push it to the House floor.
“It’s going to be very difficult for the House not to let this be voted on now because we’re three quarters of the way there,” commissioner James Comer said. “The support is overwhelming.”
“Before promoting hemp farming and products, hemp advocates should show that hemp is safe to use, and is a viable cash crop,” Speaker Stumbo countered, indicating that the Agriculture Commissioner should have conducted a study on the viability of hemp prior to pushing for the bill’s passage. “To legalize the production of hemp without this vital information would expose Americans to unknown health risks, jeopardize public health and safety, and exploit American farmers.”
“Commissioner Comer’s own upcoming study, which should have been done before any legislation was introduced, would be a good place to start,” said Stumbo. “I also would support more in-depth hearings to see if there is a truly viable market here for farmers or if Commissioner Comer is merely blowing smoke.”
Both of Kentucky’s Republican US Senators, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, have sponsored federal legislation to allow cultivation of hemp, while endorsing the pending measure in their home state.
Senate Bill 50 has broad bipartisan support, including from several members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation, but was opposed by the Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement agencies who fear that hemp crops could be used to disguise illegal marijuana fields. Hemp advocates say the possibility of an unregulated hemp industry should be more concerning for law enforcement.
Hemp thrived in Kentucky generations ago but has been banned for decades since the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.
A February poll found that a strong majority – over 65% – of Kentucky voters support the cultivation of hemp by local farmers