02/15/2013 02:30 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2013

Industrial Hemp Bill Introduced In Senate As Kentucky Moves Forward On Effort To Jumpstart Industry

Lawmakers in the Kentucky state Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved and sent to the state House a measure to lay the groundwork for the creation of a new legal hemp industry in the Bluegrass State. While the fate of Kentucky's bill now lies with state lawmakers, the entire effort most likely will depend ultimately on pending federal legislation to lift the national prohibition on hemp.

On Thursday, Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R) took a step toward that goal. With co-sponsors Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley (D), they introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which would remove the plant from its current classification alongside more potent marijuana strands as a Schedule I controlled substance. Heroin, LSD and PSP are also in that classification. Under the bill, any hemp with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content under 0.3 percent would be considered a non-drug.

A similar push is underway in the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced last week by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and a host of bipartisan co-sponsors.

Paul and McConnell have also been advocates for their homestate effort, touting the cultivation of a hemp industry as an economic boon, considering the nation is currently forced to import hundreds of millions of dollars in hemp-based products.

In a statement on Thursday, Paul spoke of the federal measure's effect on Kentucky.

“The Industrial Hemp Farming Act paves the way to creating jobs for Kentucky,” Paul said. “Allowing American farmers to cultivate industrial hemp and benefit from its many uses will boost our state’s economy and bring much-needed jobs in the agriculture community. Today’s State Senate victory, coupled with the efforts Sen. McConnell and I are making here in Washington increase my confidence that they will soon payoff, to the benefit of Kentuckians.”

McConnell joined Paul in support, saying the bill "has the potential to create jobs and provide a boost to Kentucky’s economy and to our farmers and their families."

Not all in the state agree, however, as a number of state House lawmakers and members of Kentucky's law enforcement community have expressed concern that the potential economic gain of a newly established hemp industry wouldn't outweigh the dangers of it complicating marijuana eradication efforts. Their opposition could compromise the state's entire pro-hemp campaign.

If Kentucky ultimately approves its measure and the federal legislation fails, however, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the state's federal delegation can still attempt to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration for a waiver from the federal government to grow the crop.



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