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Gov. Beshear will let hemp bill become law in Kentucky

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Kentucky law will now allow industrial hemp farming -- but only if the federal government ever lifts restrictions on the plant.

Gov. Steve Beshear on Friday said he will let the bill become law without his signature. The governor said he won't actually sign the legislation out of concerns, shared by some in law enforcement, that marijuana growers could camouflage their illegal crops with hemp plants.

Hemp is similar to marijuana but has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Hemp can be used to make products including the cosmetics and nutritional supplements sold at stores such as Whole Foods Market. Proponents of hemp farming say it could be a cash crop for U.S. farmers.

Beshear said state officials should have time to work out their concerns if the federal government allows farmers to grow the plant.

"I strongly support efforts to create additional legal cash crops for our farm communities," Beshear told reporters. "At the same time, we have a tremendous drug problem in Kentucky, and I want to make sure that we don't do anything that will increase that drug problem."

Kentucky is now the ninth state to open the door to hemp farming, according to a December report from the Congressional Research Service. A federal bill to legalize industrial hemp is pending in Congress. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said in March that he will ask the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to give Kentucky and other states a waiver to cultivate the plant.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Friday, the DEA said it continues to make no distinction between marijuana and hemp as a controlled substance, regardless of the difference in THC content.

"Any person who seeks to grow marijuana for any purpose, including industrial purposes, must be registered with the DEA," spokesman Rusty Payne said in a statement.