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Talks continue on Ky. industrial hemp legislation

Roger Alford, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- A compromise could be near on a bill that would allow Kentucky to quickly license hemp growers if the federal government ever lifts a ban on the crop, a legislative leader said Monday.

House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Catlettsburg, said he's optimistic a deal can be struck between House and Senate negotiators before the Legislature adjourns on Tuesday.

"We've had good meetings," he said Monday. "I feel like we're making good progress. The intent is to make it a better bill and a stronger bill. And I think that's where we're headed."

The hemp legislation has been hotly debated this year in Frankfort and was languishing in the House before Adkins stepped in with a proposal that seemed to revive it.

Hemp thrived as a crop in Kentucky generations ago but has been banned for decades by the federal government after it was classified as a controlled substance.

Under Adkins' proposal, the Kentucky State Police would be the agency designated to issue licenses to hemp growers. That's an effort to appease lawmakers who worry that hemp could be used as a cover crop to camouflage illegal marijuana.

The proposal also would involve the University of Kentucky in hemp research and would revamp the Kentucky Hemp Commission to include the Kentucky State Police commissioner and the UK agriculture dean as co-chairs along with the state agriculture commissioner.

The original hemp proposal has already cleared the Senate and made it through a House committee. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has said the crop could be an economic boon for Kentucky. Besides creating another crop for the state's farmers, Comer said hemp could lead to manufacturing jobs that produce products ranging from paper to cosmetics.

But the bill has been unpopular with law enforcement officials who complain that industrial hemp and marijuana have identical leaves and that laboratory tests is required to distinguish between the two. Hemp has less THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Under Adkins' proposed amendment, the state's hemp commission would be attached to the University of Kentucky for administrative purposes and would establish a 5-year research program and would seek a federal waiver to allow the state to grow hemp on demonstration sites.