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1997 | Kentucky General Assembly hears testimony on hemp

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

On July 9, 1997, Kentucky's Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, chaired by Republican Ernie Harris, heard testimony on industrial hemp. Long time hemp activist, Gatewood Galbraith, and the recently assailed school teacher, Donna Cockrel, were joined by farmers and concerned citizens who believe that hemp has a legitimate purpose in Kentucky's agricultural and economic future.

As is their wont, government officials tried to intimidate the Committee by flying DEA official, Greg Williams, in from Washington D.C. to testify. Williams warned that if hemp is legalized, people would soon be selling it as marijuana on the black market. More inane statements were made by other law and order types, including Kentucky's Justice Secretary, Dan Cherry (see "Quotes of Note" for examples). Three days after the hearings, a Lexington Herald-Leader editorial stated that "the unreasoned paranoia of law enforcement officials" was preventing an open debate on this subject. The editorial concluded by saying that a regulated hemp industry would work in America "if our law enforcement officials could get past their fear and accept the fact that the hemp you roll in paper isn't the same as the hemp used to make that paper." Committee chairman Harris indicated that the industrial hemp issue will be revisited in the future.

See article from the Lexington-Herald Leader from July 10, 1997.

Kentucky Lawmakers Hear Hemp Arguments By Andy Mead, Staff Writer

Lexington, Kentucky July 10, 1997

FRANKFORT - One side called it “industrial fiber hemp” and said Kentucky would be foolish not to at least study whether it could help beleaguered farmers. The other side called it “marijuana” and claimed it would make enforcement of drug laws impossible. For the first time in modern history, a committee of the General Assembly heard testimony on hemp yesterday.

The large hearing room in the Capitol Annex was packed as the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources spent two hours getting two completely different stories. Dorothy Robinson, a farmer from Bath County, asked legislators to approve research to find out whether it could be a worthwhile crop. “Your courage may determine our future,” she said. Justice Secretary Dan Cherry countered that “what we’re really talking about here today is the legalization of marijuana.” Even conducting research at a university, he said, would be stepping onto “a slippery slope heading toward the worst possible conclusion.”

Where the anti-hemp side contended it would barely make enough money to bother with planting it, the pro side talked of preserving family farms and rejuvenating rural communities with small processing plants. Both sides agreed on one thing: No matter what the General Assembly does, it would be extremely difficult to get federal permission to grow hemp. The committee took no action, but chairman Ernie Harris, a Republican senator from Crestwood, said the subject will no doubt be considered again.

At issue is a plant similar to marijuana except that it has very little THC, the chemical that produces a high when marijuana is smoked. The THC content of marijuana can approach 20 percent. Hemp’s THC content is less than 1 percent. Experts say you can’t possibly smoke enough to get high. Hemp advocates say it is an environmentally friendly plant with strong fibers that can be made into everything from clothing to car parts. A University of Kentucky poll last year showed wide-spread support for allowing farmers to grow hemp, and it has the backing of both the Kentucky Farm Bureau and the Community Farm Alliance. Law enforcement officials are uniformly opposed.

“The proposed legalization of hemp is in my opinion nothing more than an attempt to legalize the growing of marijuana within this state,” Kentucky State Police Commissioner Gary Rose said. Rose, Cherry and Greg Williams, a federal Drug Enforcement Agency official who flew in from Washington to testify, suggested that if hemp were legalized, criminals would soon be selling the leaves on the street. Cherry said they could be mixed with “legitimate marijuana,” the other two suggested they could produce a high when smoked. Hemp advocates said that isn’t true, that low-THC seeds produce only low-THC leaves.

Hemp could hurt the illegal marijuana industry by cross-pollinating and lowering its THC. Andy Graves, a Fayette County farmer who is president of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Association, said people who were allowed to grow hemp would have to show they had no felony conviction of any type and no drug-related misdemeanor conviction. They also would have to be licensed and allow unannounced searches of their fields. Graves said 11 states are considering or will consider hemp legislation. Two - Vermont and North Dakota - already are doing research at their universities.

Sen. Barry Metcalf, R-Richmond, has proposed legislation calling for hemp research. He said he would like to see genetic research to cross hemp with kenaf, a member of the cotton family. Other legislators who expressed opinions yesterday appeared to be anti-hemp. There also was some giggling - to the dismay of hemp advocates who are trying to get past the “giggle factor” from people who associate hemp with its smokable cousin. Most of the giggles came when Lexington grocer Don Pratt tried to talk to the committee about marijuana’s medical uses and said that some of them no doubt smoked marijuana. “I did try it once,” said state Rep. Donnie Newsome, D-Dema. “But I didn’t inhale.”

Click the links below to learn more about the Harrelson and Cockrel trials:



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