FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Industrial hemp's growth from the fringes to the political mainstream in Kentucky continued Thursday, with state Senate passage of a bill to strictly regulate the crop if the federal government lifts its current ban on the one-time agricultural staple in the Bluegrass state.
The bill, which would license hemp growers if the crop gains a federal reprieve, cleared the Senate on a 31-6 vote as supporters promoted its potential to diversify Kentucky farms in an era when tobacco's influence has waned. They said hemp's comeback would create processing and manufacturing jobs in converting the plant into products that include paper, clothing, auto parts, biofuels, food and lotions.
Sen. Paul Hornback, a tobacco farmer and the bill's lead sponsor, said Kentucky needs to be at the forefront of giving the versatile crop a chance if the federal ban is lifted. The Shelbyville Republican said he had heard recently from two companies interested in capitalizing on a hemp comeback in Kentucky, including a processing company in Canada looking to expand and offer production contracts to farmers.
"Give us the opportunity," Hornback said. "Put us in a position in Kentucky to give us an opportunity to see how this works. I don't think anybody knows exactly what the economic impact's going to be in Kentucky. We don't know what the economic viability is going to be."
The bill now heads to the House, where its prospects are much less certain.
"I think it'll have a little tougher time here," House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters.