By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer expressed optimism Thursday that state lawmakers next week will approve a bill to regulate hemp farming in the state.
Comer said he was open to compromise with lawmakers on the bill but stressed that he could not support any change to it that would delay getting permits from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to grow the crop. For example, he said a bill that merely study’s hemp farming would not fly.
Comer’s comments came after a meeting of the Industrial Hemp Commission. Most of the meeting focused on the status of Senate Bill 50.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, has cleared the Senate and a House committee. It is intended to allow Kentucky to quickly license hemp growers if the federal government lifts a ban on the plant, a botanical sibling of marijuana.
House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, proposed an amendment last week to the bill but Comer said it was an effort to kill the bill, especially its provision to allow five years of hemp growing demonstration projects by licensed growers.
Hornback said at Thursday’s meeting that he plans to meet with Adkins at 11 a.m. Friday to work on the bill.
Lawmakers return to Frankfort next Monday and Tuesday to wrap up this year’s legislative session.
“I look forward to continuing the discussion on Senate Bill 50 and am hopeful that a consensus can be reached,” Adkins said Thursday in an email.
Adkins’ proposal would involve the University of Kentucky in hemp research and would revamp the Kentucky Hemp Commission to include the Kentucky State Police commissioner and the UK agriculture dean as co-chairs, along with the state agriculture commissioner. It also would provide tax breaks for businesses that use hemp.
Comer said KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer is “one of the most outspoken opponents of this industry.”
Brewer and some other law enforcement officials have said hemp could be used to camouflage marijuana, which is illegal. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Comer said he has no problem with a UK official’s appointment as co-chair of the hemp commission. He also said UK does not want to be in charge of regulating hemp farming.
Concerning possible tax credits for companies that use hemp, Comer said that issue is up to the legislature but he does not think it is necessary.
Comer asked all House Democratic and Republican leaders to attend Wednesday’s meeting but only House Minority Caucus Chair Bob DeWeese of Louisville showed up.
Comer said the others notified him that they had other commitments.
“We wanted to give them the opportunity to explain what their intentions are,” he said.