By John David Dyche
Here are some words never before seen in this column and previously inconceivable to the mind of its author: Jack Conway could be right.
The style-over-substance Conway, 44, is Kentucky's Attorney General. His ambition to hold higher office burns so hot that the glow may be visible from outer space.
Conway recently opined that, "Any individual or entity that invests in anticipation of growing industrial hemp in the near future, and any individual or entity that intentionally grows hemp within the Commonwealth, will expose themselves to potential criminal liability and the possible seizure of property by federal or state law enforcement agencies."
He also took a dig at Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, the top Republican prospect for the governorship in 2015. Comer, who leads the Kentucky industrial hemp movement, recently said, "Hemp is legal in Kentucky, and the federal government has made it clear that it is not going to prosecute farmers for growing hemp."
Conway pounced on his prospective gubernatorial rival like Lee Corso picking an pigskin upset, saying, in essence, "Not so fast, my friend!" He called it "irresponsible" to tell "farmers all across Kentucky right now ‘yeah, you can start planting in April.'"
In his most Clintonian (that is, phoniest) "aw, shucks" style, Conway claims he is just doing his duty. "I think it is my job to state that so that we don't have farmers who are exposing themselves," he says.
Nobody wants farmers "exposing themselves," whether to legal liability or otherwise, but Conway's motives are probably not as pure he professes. He clearly wants to take some luster off Comer's incredibly successful campaign to make industrial hemp a viable cash crop for Kentucky farmers.
Comer impressively assembled a bipartisan, federal-state coalition on the issue, overcame law enforcement opposition, and changed both attitudes and the law. In so doing, the 41 year-old former state legislator from Tompkinsville displayed the kind and quantity of political leadership Kentucky so desperately needs.
After the federal Department of Justice issued new, more lenient prosecutorial guidelines for marijuana, the Comer-led Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission indicated it would start licensing farmers to again grow the crop that formerly flourished in the commonwealth. Comer could use this success to bolster a gubernatorial bid, so Conway clearly has a motive to slow down the speeding industrial hemp train.
Conway claims he will help Kentucky get a federal waiver to proceed on industrial hemp, but hedges his promise with the condition that law enforcement "say ‘yeah we can work with this framework.'" This may reflect Conway's need to shore up his positions on drugs and with law enforcement after his controversial involvement in a criminal drug investigation of his brother.
That incident contributed to Conway's 56%-44% shellacking by Rand Paul in the 2010 U. S. Senate race. Another landslide loss like that could forever end the delusions of those true believers who still consider Conway a potential president.
The epitome of an urban liberal from Louisville's toniest neighborhood, Conway probably would not win much support from Kentucky's agricultural community against an authentic dung-on-the-boots guy like Comer anyway. So he might as well try to stake out some claim to the "law and order" vote.
To his credit, Conway has done some decent work on Kentucky's pill problem. And his technical legal position on industrial hemp farming is prudent and well-reasoned even if it ignores the practical reality that federal prosecution for growing the product is highly unlikely.
Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader, also seems to recognize that some further federal action is appropriate, if not necessary. He issued a statement promising to seek "the best federal approach which will aid Kentucky farmers and allow them to harness the economic potential that industrial hemp can provide" while also acknowledging law enforcement concerns.
It is merely a matter of time before Kentucky farmers are growing and selling industrial hemp free from any fear of prosecution. Regardless of when that day comes, the issue is a winner for Comer. Meanwhile, Kentucky's rural voters may now have even more reason to doubt that city slicker lawyer Conway who tried to keep them down on the farm.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com.