Hemp regulations approved by Kentucky commission

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News,Business,Agriculture,Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's industrial hemp commission on Tuesday approved regulations setting guidelines for research projects that are meant to reintroduce the crop but are being stalled by a legal fight over distribution of seeds.

The regulations aimed at keeping track of test hemp plots were drafted by the state Agriculture Department. The guidelines next go to Gov. Steve Beshear for his review.

Later Tuesday, Holly Harris VonLuehrte, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer's chief of staff, said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had approved an import permit for hemp seeds. State officials have been assured they will be able Wednesday to get a shipment of hemp seed that has been held up.

"I think it's laying out a process for the rest of the country," VonLuehrte said. "There will be hopefully no more arbitrary actions."

Growing hemp without a federal permit was banned in 1970 due to its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Hemp's comeback was spurred by the new federal farm bill, which allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states that allow hemp growing.

In another step aimed at getting hemp seeds in the ground this spring, Kentucky agriculture officials showed federal drug officials their planned security measures to safeguard the seeds before being they are sent to the fields.

Both developments had Kentucky's top agriculture official upbeat about hemp's comeback.

"We've come a long way, and I believe we are on the verge of making history," Comer said.

Kentucky's pilot hemp projects were put on hold after a 250-pound shipment of imported seeds was seized by U.S. customs officials in Louisville earlier this month. The state's Agriculture Department sued the federal government over the seizure and the two sides are scheduled to meet with a federal judge on Wednesday. Defendants in the lawsuit include the Justice Department, the DEA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Meanwhile, state agriculture officials applied for the import permit.

"We have jumped through every hoop that has been placed in front of us," VonLuehrte said.

Federal drug officials inspected the state Agriculture Department's facilities at Frankfort for storing hemp seeds to determine if they are secure enough, she said. The seeds would be stored behind multiple locked doors and in locked containers, she said.

Eight pilot projects are planned in Kentucky, with six universities helping with research. One issue that was still unresolved last week was whether private farmers could participate in the projects.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday in Denver that he's working with the Justice Department to permit the importation of hemp seeds for cultivation. Vilsack said his agency is trying to resolve a conflict between what the farm bill permits and what federal drug laws prohibit.

In Kentucky, the state's Agriculture Department would require farmers to sign documents stating they would adhere to regulations overseeing the hemp projects, VonLuehrte said.

She has said total production is expected to be less than 20 acres in Kentucky, where hemp once thrived.

Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian said Tuesday that the governor's office was working with the Agriculture Department on the proposed regulations. He said the governor planned to sign the regulations, "assuming the final language complies with state law and the federal court's prospective ruling."

The state's hemp regulations would enable the Agriculture Department to compile a list of any individual involved in handling or producing hemp. Those individuals would have to submit to a state criminal history check and would have to provide hemp field locations.

Also, state agriculture officials would have to be notified ahead of harvest to give them the option to test field samples to verify the hemp's THC levels. The department would receive reports on average yield and production costs per acre, along with other growing and marketing information.

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Associated Press Writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.

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