Industrial hemp has become a political tug-of-war - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Industrial hemp has become a political tug-of-war

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- It was thought to be dead, but a House committee today resurrected the movement to legalize industrial hemp. But hemp's new life may be quickly snuffed out.

The hemp debate has essentially come down to a battle of wills between two men; Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and House Speaker Greg Stumbo. And, right now, it appears Stumbo holds the upper hand.

"I knew that if that bill was given a fair vote, that it would pass out with an overwhelming majority, and it did," said Comer, reacting to the House Agriculture Committee's passage of the hemp bill.

The bill seemed dead after committee chairman Tom McKee refused to allow a vote last week.

The change of heart came after Comer visited with interested farmers in McKee's home county last weekend.

"I was expecting a few people there, 3 or 4, and there were over 70 people there. Rep. McKee also came to that, and at that particular time things started changing and going in our direction," said Comer.

Normally the next stop would be a vote on the House floor. But Speaker Greg Stumbo says probably not.

"I doubt that it will go to the House floor. It's got a lot of problems," said Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg.

Comer believes Kentucky can return to the days when hemp was a major cash crop. But Stumbo thinks the effort to legalize hemp production is not needed.

"If the feds lift the ban, it is automatically lifted by operation of law in Kentucky. Simple as 1-2-3. It's not necessary at all. All it does is create another create another level of bureaucracy," said Stumbo.

The issue has become political power play between Democrat Stumbo and Republican Comer, whom Stumbo calls the "hemp-czar."

"I believe that, if today, at this particular moment in time, the Speaker has doubts about letting this bill get a fair vote on the House floor, that after a few days of hearing from his constituents and the people of Kentucky that this bill will be treated just like every other piece of legislation and will get a fair vote on the House floor," said Comer.

"The commissioner really needs to get his ducks in order a little bit better before he comes over here and starts trying to call names and bully his way through," countered Stumbo.

In the unlikely event of a House vote and passage, there is still one major roadblock to hemp. Gov. Steve Beshear is also opposed and could veto any bill.

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