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Commissioner: State police against hemp

Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer said his agency is opposed to proposals to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky even though he sees the benefits for the agriculture industry.

Brewer said after a meeting of the newly restarted Kentucky Hemp Commission that state police are concerned the agricultural pluses will be offset by law enforcement minuses such as distinguishing between hemp and its cousin, marijuana.

"It's incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to the casual observer or even the astute observer to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana as its being grown" he said. He added that problem becomes even more difficult when police use helicopters to search for marijuana fields, a common practice.

Hemp and marijuana are the same species, cannabis sativa, but are genetically distinct. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

The commission, led by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, held its second meeting since it came out of a decade-long dormancy. Comer is aggressively pursuing state legislation that would allow hemp, which is illegal to grow in the United States, to be grown in Kentucky with federal approval.

Comer says the crop could provide agriculture and manufacturing jobs in Kentucky, as it once did during World War II. U.S. retail sales of hemp products exceeded $400 million last year, according to industry estimates.

The versatile crop can be turned into paper, clothing, food, biofuels, lotions and many other products.

The two men met privately after the meeting. Afterward, Comer said while he would like law enforcement support, he doesn't think opposition from Kentucky State Police will derail his proposal.

"I wish law enforcement was 100 percent on board, but at the end of the day, my job is to promote agriculture and ... to promote rural economic development and this will do it," he said.

He added he hoped assurances that Kentucky would not attempt to grow the crop without federal approval would help alleviate law enforcement concerns.

"If the federal government never approves it, then we'll never grow any industrial hemp in Kentucky," Comer said.

The panel is considering draft legislation for the 2103 session of the General Assembly that would include requiring local sheriffs to monitor hemp fields.

It also approved plans for an economic study that would determine the potential per-acre profit for farmers and the potential for manufacturing jobs. The study would be paid for by the commission without using public money, Comer said.

The hemp commission has received $100,000 in seed money to help pay for its advocacy for the plant.

The commission was created in 2001 to oversee industrial hemp research in Kentucky and make recommendations to the governor. Last month, Comer convened the 18-member panel for the first time in a decade.