Earlier this week Kentucky Educational Television hosted a lively discussion on Kentucky Senate Bill 50, which is designed to prepare Kentucky for the inevitable legalization of hemp production in the United States. Hemp production is currently illegal under Federal law, but a shift in public opinion and the political winds is evident by the recent statements of Kentucky’s Congressional Delegation. Both of Kentucky’s U.S. Senators and several Congressmen have come out in favor of KY Senate Bill 50. KY Senate Bill 50, if passed, would not legalize hemp, it would merely set up a framework to prepare Kentucky to produce industrial hemp in a safe and legal manner when federal law changes.
Unfortunately several of KET’s panelists erred when they cited existing research on the potential value of hemp production to Kentucky’s economy. According to a formal study conducted by the University of Kentucky in 1998, the low-end estimate for hemp production was that it could add 770 jobs and $17 million in annual revenue to Kentucky’s economy; the high-end estimate was $396 million a year in revenue and 17,000 new jobs. Adjusted for inflation, the current value of the high-end estimate is over half a billion dollars a year in 2013. On the KET program, the panelists only cited the low-end estimate, giving viewers an inaccurate picture of existing research.
But let’s say the low-end estimate is closer to reality. Even then, do we really want to tell 770 people in Kentucky who are out of work that we don’t want them to even have a chance to find employment in the hemp industry? Law enforcement’s representative on the KET panel, Commissioner Randy Brewer, indicated that legalizing hemp would make it much more difficult for police to prevent the sale and use of marijuana, which Senate Bill 50 would not legalize either. That is precisely the concern Senate Bill 50 is designed to address by getting us ready now instead of doing nothing and having no plan when federal law changes. I respect those in uniform, whether it’s military or in this case the police; I wore a military uniform for ten years and I understand what it means. What it does not mean is that if you show up in a uniform everything you say is gospel.
Kentucky appoints police above the rank of Captain, meaning Commissioner Brewer is not an elected official, he is an appointed one. In America, un-elected officials do not get to dictate terms to the free market, but that is exactly what the Commissioner is trying to do, albeit with noble intentions. On the KET interview he said unless hemp can be distinguished from marijuana from at least 500 in the air (the Governor’s Strike Task Force and the KSP rely on aerial surveillance to find most marijuana) he would oppose KY Senate Bill 50. As a private citizen, it’s certainly his right to oppose KY Senate Bill 50 or any other bill. But just because new market conditions might make life for some bureaucracies more difficult does not mean the entire free market should adjust to the bureaucracy. That’s not how it works.
Kentucky needs to prepare for the future by using every asset we can to build sustainable communities and afford our citizens the chance to earn a livable wage. The hemp industry is well suited to aid Kentucky in that effort. Kentucky is ideal for growing hemp from an agricultural standpoint, and the market for it is real—not only does the University of Kentucky study state unequivocally there is such a market, but as Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer mentioned, private businesses are ready and waiting to invest money in industrial hemp. Call your representative and tell them to vote yes on KY Senate Bill 50, and help build a better future for Kentucky.