A Kentucky bill to take preliminary steps toward establishing a legal hemp industry appeared to fizzle in the state House on Wednesday, weeks after receiving overwhelming support in the state Senate.
After lengthy debate before the state House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, state Rep. Jim DeCesare (R) called for a vote on the legislation, which would set up a licensing and regulatory process for would-be Kentucky hemp farmers, but only if the federal government first passes a measure to remove the crop from a list of illegal drugs. Committee Chairman Tom McKee (D) ruled the motion out of order, blocking a vote.
As the Associated Press reported:
McKee wants to overhaul the bill to allow a university-led study of hemp, which thrived in Kentucky generations ago but has been banned for decades since the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
But McKee didn't call for a vote on his own version of the bill, and the meeting ultimately adjourned without a vote on any hemp measure. McKee claimed the setback he had dealt the bill didn't mean the issue was dead.
“We’d like to do something this year, and I think there’s a chance that maybe we can do that with our committee sub while we’re waiting for the federal ban to be lifted, whenever that may be,” he said, according to the Frankfort State Journal.
But with the legislative session quickly coming to a close and the committee only planning to meet once more in the remaining days, time is running out.
The delay is a serious obstacle for the hemp legalization movement, which had experienced positive momentum leading up to the House hearing. U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R) had both thrown their weight behind the effort, as had members of the state's U.S. House delegation. Along with Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, perhaps the biggest advocate for industrial hemp, the proponents had repeatedly touted the potential economic benefit of hemp production.
But opponents of the effort among the Kentucky law enforcement community also pushed back aggressively, arguing that legalizing the crop would complicate efforts to eradicate more potent strains of marijuana that are cultivated for drug use.