Kentucky Governor Signs Industrial Hemp Bill 3/30/01

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Years of activism have finally paid dividends for industrial hemp supporters in the Bluegrass State, as Kentucky Governor Paul Patton (Democrat) on March 20th signed into a law a bill that establishes a state Industrial Hemp Commission and paves the way for research on hemp to get underway at Kentucky universities.

Kentucky joins four states that have approved hemp research programs -- Hawaii, where the first legal hemp crop in 50 years was planted in December, 1999, Minnesota, New Mexico and North Dakota, which went a step further and also authorized hemp production in 1999. Similar legislation passed both houses of the Illinois legislature this year, but was vetoed by GOP Gov. George Ryan last month.

Despite opposition from law enforcement and free-lance drug warriors such as Drug Watch International's Jeannette McDougal, who weighed in with a "Hemp a Cover for Legalizing Pot" op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader the day before the governor put pen to paper, HB100 easily passed both chambers, 66-32 in the House and 68-28 in the Senate.

The measure came after years of organizing around the issue, including the occasional interventions of actor and cannabis activist Woody Harrelson, whose 1996 arrest and subsequent trial (he lost) for planting hemp seeds generated copious media coverage. This year, the legislation was aided by active lobbying by former Gov. Louie Nunn, the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association, and other hemp and drug reform supporters.

Hemp growers' co-op head Joe Hickey is happy. "I'm pleased that the state of Kentucky is finally going to be researching industrial hemp and its potential for Kentucky farmers," he told DRCNet.

"We've worked hard on this for a long time, and eight years of educating the public finally paid off," said Hickey. "We finally got to the point where the public understood the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana, and they understood we weren't trying to legalize marijuana, but are looking at hemp as alternative for the loss of revenue facing Kentucky tobacco farmers."

The hemp law calls for the state Agriculture Department to administer a hemp research program at a university or universities designated by the Council on Postsecondary Education. And there is even a minor role for law enforcement: A successful amendment requires that the Kentucky State Police be notified of the whereabouts of all industrial hemp plots. The hemp commission established by the law must issue a report and make recommendations to the governor by December 15th.

Hickey doesn't expect much to happen by then, though. "It's too late in the year to get a crop in with all the red tape we have to go through here and with the DEA," he told DRCNet. "More likely, it'll be next summer before we are able to realize research plots."

Although Hickey told DRCNet that linkage between hemp and broader marijuana law reform was a significant obstacle for the hempsters, he was loathe to criticize the pot people. "Everyone has their own issues," he said, "and their own feelings about what is right. But cannabis advocates were the biggest hurdle for us to get over, because people would say we were trying to legalize marijuana through hemp, which is simply not true."

In fact, said Hickey, there is an emergent contradiction between farmers who want to grow hemp and the state's legions of backwoods, cash-crop marijuana farmers. (Kentucky is a major marijuana producer, with marijuana being its leading cash crop, according to the DEA.) Making a point that belies the oft-repeated warnings from police that marijuana growers would hide their crops within hemp fields, Hickey noted that, "Lots of marijuana growers out there are afraid of mass industrial hemp crops, because of cross-pollination. They don't want their harvests ruined by hemp's low THC content."

It isn't about smoking pot, said Hickey, but about finding a way for Kentucky's beleaguered small farmers to survive.

"Farmers are caught between a rock and a hard place," Hickey told DRCNet, "with marijuana growers on one side, law enforcement on the other, and farmers are conspicuously stuck in the middle. Farmers aren't interested in growing a crop regulated by law enforcement, and they aren't really interested in marijuana. They just want to keep the family farm."

"What does it say about the state of affairs in America," asked Hickey, "when farmers here aren't allowed the same freedom to grow hemp as farmers in Canada, England, France, and the rest of the industrialized world? The cops there can tell the difference."

(Visit http://www.lrc.state.ky.us/record/01rs/HB100.htm for the full text of Kentucky's hemp bill.)

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Issue #179, 3/30/01 Editorial: Medical Marijuana Patients Shouldn't Have to Go to the Supreme Court | Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Oakland Cannabis Buyers Co-op Case, State Medical Marijuana Laws Will Stand Regardless | Interview: Alan Bock on Medical Marijuana in California | Eyes on the Prize: European Drug Reformers Call for Legalization, Target Global Prohibition Regime -- Brussels Confab Focuses on UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs | Mexico: Chihuahua Governor Adds Voice to Legalization Chorus, Extends Rhetorical Hand Across Border to Gov. Johnson | In California, the Medical Marijuana Struggle Grinds On | DEA Denies Marijuana Rescheduling Petition -- Petitioners Promise Appeal, Question Timing | Kampia vs. the Inquisition: House Republicans Rake Reformer Over the Coals | High School Drug Tests Barred Again, This Time in Oklahoma -- Divided US Circuit Court Decisions Herald Eventual Supreme Court Resolution | OpenTheCan.org: November Coalition Label Campaign | Kentucky Governor Signs Industrial Hemp Bill | Hemp and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Gear-Up in South Dakota, State Legislature is Hopeless | Calling All Spanish Speakers: Volunteers Needed to Proof "DRCNet en Español" | Harm Reduction Coalition's Latest Communication Now Available, Newsletter Provides Insights, Questions | The Reformer's Calendar | Errata
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