The Kentucky legislature on Wednesday approved legislation that permits industrial hemp production in the state.


"This historic legislation puts Kentucky in position to be first in line if and when the federal government legalizes production of industrial hemp," Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in a statement. “By passing this bill, the General Assembly has signaled that Kentucky is serious about restoring industrial hemp production to the Commonwealth and doing it in the right way. That will give Kentucky’s congressional delegation more leverage when they seek a federal waiver allowing Kentucky farmers to grow hemp."

Four members of Kentucky's congressional delegation -- U.S. Sens. Rand Paul (R) and Mitch McConnell (R), along with U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth (D) and Thomas Massie (D) -- supported the bill, saying the cultivation of non-psychoactive variants of the marijuana plant would be an economic boon for the state.

Hemp can be used to make a number of products, but currently cultivating the lucrative crop is prohibited because the federal government and many states treat it as a Schedule I drug. Those hoping to use the plant in foods, fabrics, textiles, papers, bioplastics and biofuels are forced to import it.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) said he was unsure about the bill. The governor told The Courier Journal he plans to speak with law enforcement officials before signing or vetoing the legislation.

The states of Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia have all approved legislation that legalizes hemp production, according to the group Vote Hemp. But farmers will not be growing hemp in any state until the federal government lifts its restrictions.

"I have pledged, along with Rep. John Yarmuth, to seek a waiver when a regulatory framework is in place," Paul said in a statement. "I will follow through on that pledge and I hope that Kentucky will soon start growing hemp, creating jobs and leading the nation in this industry again."

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[Man with marijuana plants via Shutterstock]