New Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has made industrial hemp his first legislative priority.
Comer, a Republican, has enlisted the help of two Democratic representatives and one Democratic senator to file a bill to legalize the crop in each chamber. A former state representative himself, Comer says many myths about industrial hemp are starting to fade, and farmers are looking to it as a replacement for tobacco, which is waning.
"We’ve seen that more and more people are asking why do we not grow hemp in Kentucky," says Comer. "Why do we not grow hemp, industrial hemp, in the United States? And more and more people are beginning to realize what I’ve realized. That this is a viable option forKentucky farmers.”
Under Comer’s plan, one year licenses would be given by the Department of Agriculture to grow and farm hemp. Applicants would submit to a national background check. Anyone with a felony in the last ten years would be disqualified.
The plan also needs national approval. Democratic Sen. Joey Pendleton, the sponsor in the Senate, believes that won't be a problem. And after years of misinformation, Comer says the agriculture industry is behind the move.
“And throughout the course of 14 months of the campaign, I never had one person in the agriculture community say one negative thing about industrial hemp," Comer said. "Also never had one person in the law enforcement community ever say one negative thing about industrial hemp."
Ten years ago, the General Assembly created a hemp commission to oversee the crop. The same law allows the University of Kentucky to grow hemp for research. Comer previously told KPR statewide growth is necessary, not research. He further hopes to become head of the hemp commission, which has never met.