KNOXVILLE — Two state lawmakers in Tennessee are pointing to Kentucky’s recent approval of hemp farming as they push for a similar measure.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains is drafting a bill with Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, and they plan to introduce the measure in next year’s legislative session.
Nicely said Kentucky and six other states have passed measures legalizing hemp even though federal law prohibits it. Nicely said there also is support for changing federal laws, notably from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, both from Kentucky.
“The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real, and if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times, that sounds like a good thing to me,” McConnell said in a statement earlier this year.
Hemp is controversial because the fiber is derived from the same plant as marijuana. Although varieties of the plant eliminate all or most of the drug component, authorities are concerned that marijuana cultivators might hide drug plants among a crop of fiber plants.
Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee did not take a position on the issue, but said it should be discussed.
“While we have not spent a great deal of time on the issue, we think it should be fully vetted and debated at the appropriate time,” Laura Herzog, spokeswoman for Corker, wrote in an e-mail.
A spokesman for Alexander offered similar comments.
“This is a very interesting proposal that has a good economic argument behind it. Unfortunately, an amendment by Sen. Paul to allow industrial hemp to be grown and processed was not considered during the farm bill debate, but Sen. Alexander will carefully consider this issue going forward,” Alexander’s spokesman, Jim Jeffries, said in an e-mail.
Niceley, a farmer, said introducing the measure in the Tennessee legislature would “put pressure on Congress” to repeal its prohibition on growing the plant, which has a long history in the nation.
“Betsy Ross’s first American flag was made of hemp. Cowboys used to have jeans made of hemp. The cover on covered wagons headed west was made of hemp,” he said.
“You can import it. You can process it for thousands of uses. You can own it. Why is it illegal to raise it?”