FRANKFORT — And you thought you’d heard the last of hemp from the 2013 General Assembly. Wrong.
Late Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said he’s been in discussions with Agriculture Commissioner James Comer about ways to improve a bill Comer wanted and the Senate passed to form a regulatory framework for growing industrial hemp.
The Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, and backed by Comer to set up a “framework” for licensing and growing hemp if the federal government allowed its cultivation. The crop is currently illegal to grow in the U.S. under federal law.
The Kentucky State Police and others opposed the bill and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the bill was unnecessary and depended on projected markets that no one could verify.
That all changed with Adkins’ speech at about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Adkins said he began work on an amendment to tie a five-year hemp demonstration project to the University of Kentucky and its Center for Applied Energy “after working with the Speaker and the commissioner (Comer).”
Hornback said he’d heard nothing about the amendment until Adkins made his speech. And despite Adkins’ statement that Comer was aware of Adkins work on a way “to broaden and improve the bill,” Hornback said Comer has said nothing to him about it.
Adkins’ bill would change the Hemp Commission membership and make the UK Dean of Agriculture and the KSP Commissioner co-chairs. He would leave Comer as a member but would make KSP responsible for licensing growers and processors.
Hornback’s bill would place licensing in the Agriculture Department and also make the Ag Department responsible for testing to distinguish hemp from marijuana.
Adkins’ proposal would also “incentivize” growers and processors by offering tax credits for the costs of production and machinery. Comer and Hornback have repeatedly said their proposal involved no tax incentives for hemp.
Stumbo, as late as Tuesday, said he would not agree to the hemp bill until law enforcement concerns were addressed. After Adkins’ speech, Stumbo said the amendment would put KSP in charge of background checks for all growers and the amendment “is definitely a step forward.”
Comer’s spokeswoman, Holly Harris VonLuehrte, said Comer knew nothing of Adkins’ amendment until he watched Adkins’ speech on Kentucky Education Television.
She said Comer had met with Adkins Friday but hadn’t heard back from Adkins since, despite repeated calls and texts trying to reach Adkins. She said Comer won’t agree to move the Hemp Commission out of the Agriculture Department.
“We were blindsided,” VonLuehrte said. “Really, it’s a joke.”
Hornback said he and Comer hadn’t discussed the possibility Adkins might offer an amendment.
“No, Comer has not said anything to me about it, and I’ve talked to him every day more than once a day,” Hornback said.
The House did not vote on Adkins’ amendment, nor did he ask them to. Instead, he said he would attempt to “move this issue forward” during the veto break and he hoped he’d have something for the House when they return on March 25 and 26 to consider overriding any vetoes by the governor.