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Beshear tells Obama Ky. wants to explore hemp

Roger Alford, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Gov. Steve Beshear is calling for the federal government to take a fresh look at whether there's a way to capitalize on the potential economic benefits of industrial hemp without undermining marijuana eradication efforts.

Beshear sent a letter Friday to President Barack Obama, asking that the Office of Drug Control Policy, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. attorney general's office work with the Drug Enforcement Administration on the issue.

Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year that lays the groundwork for hemp farming if the DEA were to lift restrictions on the crop.

Several Kentucky political leaders have been pushing for industrial hemp production, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul who contend it could be a boon for Kentucky farmers.

McConnell and Paul have been pressing to remove federal restrictions on the domestic production of industrial hemp, which flourished in Kentucky until it was banned decades ago when the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.

In Kentucky, the industrial hemp movement has firmly taken root. Proponents contend lifting the federal ban would give farmers a new crop and would create processing jobs to turn the fiber and seeds into products ranging from paper to biofuels.

Dozens of countries, including Canada, already produce the crop.

"While experience in Canada tells us that the economic opportunities in the hemp industry are still largely unknown, we want to explore any and all opportunities that have the possible potential for job creation and enhancing rural economies in areas of our state," Beshear said in the letter to Obama. "At the same time, we share many of the concerns expressed by law enforcement officers and don't want to take any steps that would undermine our efforts to combat the drug abuse epidemic here in the commonwealth."

Beshear had let the state's hemp bill become law without his signature. The Democratic governor said he wouldn't sign the legislation out of concerns, shared by some in law enforcement, that marijuana growers could camouflage their illegal crops with hemp plants.

"The governor hasn't changed his position at all," Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said in a statement. "The letter merely indicates his desire that we explore any opportunity for growing industrial hemp if law enforcement concerns can be satisfied."