FRANKFORT - Kentucky's attorney general has offered to assist hemp supporters making preparations for the start of a hemp-growing pilot program in a state where the non-intoxicating relative of marijuana once flourished.
The announcement Friday reflects cooperation between Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway and Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. Both are potential candidates for governor next year.
"I appreciate Commissioner Comer working with the Office of the Attorney General as he implements the pilot projects in Kentucky," Conway said in a statement.
Senior staff members in both their offices are reviewing language for the pilot hemp programs to ensure they comply with the new federal farm bill. That new farm policy allows the start of pilot growing programs in states that already allow the growing of hemp, though federal drug law has blocked actual cultivation in most.
At Comer's request, Conway has pledged to contact federal border patrol officials to ensure hemp seeds for the pilot project are legally imported for the purposes outlined in the farm bill.
Comer, who has championed the return of hemp production to Kentucky, has said the availability of seeds is an obstacle to overcome in getting a small experimental crop in the ground this year. Under the farm bill, state departments of agriculture will designate hemp-cultivation pilot projects for research purposes.
Conway also pledged to work with Comer to pursue a waiver allowing for the expansion of hemp production for commercial purposes. The waiver will be sought from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"His position has not changed that a federal waiver is needed for commercial purposes," Conway's spokeswoman, Allison Martin, said of the attorney general's stance on the matter.
Comer said cooperation between agriculture and law enforcement is crucial in developing a hemp industry capitalizing on the crop's many uses. He sees the return of industrial hemp as a way to boost Kentucky's economy, especially in rural areas, through crop production, processing and manufacturing.
"I appreciate Attorney General Conway's willingness to open the lines of communication and help us overcome the legal obstacles to this new market for Kentucky farmers," Comer said.
Hemp production was banned decades ago when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation last year that allowed industrial hemp to be reintroduced, but only if the federal government allows its production.
Hemp was historically used for rope but has many other uses: clothing and mulch from the fiber, food such as hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and creams, soap and lotions.