Thursday, March 08, 2001

Hemp research in Ky. draws near

Senate votes approval, 26-11

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Kentucky will try to undertake research into the agricultural and economic viability of industrial hemp, despite another round of legislative warnings that it will lead to legalized marijuana.

        The Senate on Wednesday voted, 26-11, to approve the research, which is not a foregone conclusion in any event. No research would begin until a university is selected, which then must obtain required permits from federal drug-enforcement authorities. Only Hawaii has obtained such federal permission.

        The House must still approve minor changes in the bill made by the Senate, but that is expected to be a formality. The House earlier voted, 66-32, to pass the bill.

        Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, said a study could eliminate the questions and dire warnings about what might happen if industrial-hemp research is undertaken.

        “This is only a study,” Mr. Pendleton said. “It doesn't say anything about legalizing growing hemp.”

        Hemp is not new to Kentucky. As recently as the World War II years, hemp was grown widely as fiber to make rope. Wild hemp plants can still be found along fence rows in some western parts of the state.

        But marijuana, which is the narcotic cousin of hemp, is also common in the state. Some estimates make it the most profitable crop in Kentucky, illegal though it may be.

        “Legalizing hemp is legalizing marijuana, it's a stepping stone to that,” said Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs.

        Democratic Gov. Paul Patton has dropped his reservations and is expected to sign the bill.

        There is no state funding for research, which prompted Mr. McGaha to wonder how it will be financed.

        State funding was one of the reasons cited by Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who vetoed a similar state initiative for industrial hemp last month.

        Mr. Ryan said there was not enough of a market for hemp products to justify a $1 million state appropriation. Further, Mr. Ryan said the Illinois study did not require research into a plant that produces none of the drug that gives marijuana its narcotic effect.


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