Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 11:14 am
By CHUCK MASON The Daily News email@example.com/783-3262 | 6 comments
A crop harvested by the Chinese 8,500 years ago has provoked contemporary debate. Legalization of industrial hemp is being touted as a economic shot in the arm for Kentucky and elsewhere in America. At the same time, industrial hemp is being criticized by law enforcement as a way to hide illegal marijuana.
Meanwhile, local lawmakers and local law enforcement officials have no desire to see Kentucky allow medical marijuana, the subject of a pre-filed bill in the Kentucky General Assembly, which begins Jan. 8, meets for four days, then comes back into session in February for a 30-day session.
On the federal level, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, is one of three co-sponsors of U.S. Senate Bill 3501, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2012, introduced by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The bill would exempt industrial hemp as a form of marijuana in federal law, noting “ … the term marihuana does not include industrial hemp; and … the term ‘industrial hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
Marijuana is spelled “marihuana” in all federal documents regarding legislation regulating the leafy plant.
Tetrahydrocannabinol is commonly referred to as THC. It is the chemical in marijuana that gives users a high.
The federal proposal would further amend Section 201 of the federal Controlled Substances Act to read: “Industrial Hemp Determination – If a person grows or processes Cannabis sativa L. for
purposes of making industrial hemp in accordance with State law, the Cannabis sativa L. shall be deemed to meet with concentration limitation under Section 102 (57).”
A website that tracks federal legislation, www.govtrack.us, says the federal proposal only has a 2 percent chance of reaching President Barack Obama’s desk and being enacted as law. It is only given a 12 percent chance of getting out of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and reaching the Senate floor. Paul’s father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, previously has introduced similar bills in Congress.
Rand Paul argued in favor of the economic potential for industrial hemp in a Dec. 15 column in the Lexington Herald-Leader. “My vision for the farmers and manufacturers of Kentucky is to see us start growing hemp, creating jobs and leading the nation in this industry again.” Paul wrote. “These jobs will be ripe for the taking, and I want farmers in Kentucky to be the first in line.”
Kentucky and hemp are no strangers. The crop flourished in the Bluegrass state before it was lumped into federal legislation against marijuana in 1937. Hemp production essentially died out in the 1950s. The federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 didn’t make growing hemp illegal, but it did make it illegal to grow without a permit from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, noted Renee Johnson, specialist in agriculture policy for the Congressional Research Service, in a report prepared in January for the U.S. Congress.
The report to Congress noted that the DEA issued a permit for an experimental quarter-acre plot in Hawaii in 1999, which is now expired.
“Most reports indicate that the DEA has not granted any current licenses to grow hemp, even for research purposes. To date, all commercial hemp products sold in the United States are imported or manufactured from imported hemp materials,” the January report to Congress noted.
Several bills introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly since 2001 have died, according to a report “Industrial Hemp – Legal Issues,” from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and its Crop Diversification & Biofuel Research Education Center.
A bill approved in June 2001 created an industrial hemp research program and provided for Kentucky adopting the federal rules and regulations regarding industrial hemp – so any changes in federal law automatically take effect in Kentucky, the UK report noted. That bill also created the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, which was recently reactivated after a decade by State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. The commission met Dec. 7 in Frankfort.
Officials say industrial hemp and pot look the same but when their chemical composition is tested, pot has a much higher concentration of THC. That troubles Tommy Loving, director of the Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force. He expects a tough fight beginning in January to stop state legislation regarding industrial hemp growth and regulation.
A pre-filed bill in Frankfort on the legislative website about industrial hemp is sponsored by State Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon.
Mills said if the federal legislation isn’t approved, his bill – even if approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Steve Beshear into law – is still out of compliance with federal law.
“I don’t support moving forward until we get federal legislation in place,” Mills said.
“It’s moot until the federal government makes a decision,” said state Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green.
The 24th District that Mills serves in the state House is an agrarian area and could use a shot in the arm economically, he said.
“There is too much potential for us to ignore this opportunity,” Mills said.
“I’m not opposed to it,” said state Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green. “It is a good alternative crop for the ag community.” The lawmaker said many people equate industrial hemp with marijuana.
“They are not the same,” he said. “It is going to take an education effort” to gain support for the bill’s passage in the state House.
Opposition to the state legislation comes from the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association, which met last month in Louisville and voted unanimously to oppose legalization of industrial hemp in Kentucky, said Loving, who also is the east central regional director of the National Narcotic Officers’ Association Coalition. Other law enforcement groups, including the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police and the Kentucky Sheriff’s Association, are opposed to the bill, Loving said.
“We’re concerned about the apparent rush to legalize industrial hemp in Kentucky,” said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “Passing this law violates federal law,” Ingram said. Identifying the THC content amount, the key to separating the two, puts extra work on an “already overburdened law enforcement system,” he said. The quantitative THC test can only be performed by a Kentucky State Police laboratory, he said. “What’s the impact on equipment and personnel – who’s going to pay for it?” Ingram asked.
Ingram said he’s also concerned with illicit marijuana growers trying to pass their crops off as industrial hemp. Finally, he said marijuana doesn’t cease to be psychoactive at 0.3 percent, the THC content of industrial hemp.
Concerning another legislative proposal, Loving, DeCesare, Richards and Ingram all voiced disapproval of any state legislative attempt to bring medical marijuana to Kentucky.
A pre-filed bill concerning permitting medical marijuana is sponsored by state Sen. Perry B. Clark, D-Louisville.
The medical marijuana bill calls for “compassion centers” being issued certificates from the state. Those using marijuana for medical purposes would be permitted six ounces of marijuana and 12 marijuana plants. The medical marijuana would be used to aid in treatment of debilitating medical conditions. Those named in the legislation are cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and characteristics of multiple sclerosis.
“There are physical liabilities to long-term use of marijuana,” Richards said. Ingram said the idea of bringing medical marijuana use to Kentucky is “well-intentioned,” but he’s concerned with who will actually use it. It has been documented in California that people under the age of 35 are using it to combat headaches and other minor health ailments, Richards said.