McConnell says hemp would help Kentucky economy, Rogers isn't so sure

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The push to re-establish industrial hemp in Kentucky has won an endorsement from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Kentucky's most influential Republican said Thursday that legalizing the versatile crop would be a "positive development" for Kentucky's economy and farmers. McConnell said he took his stand after discussions with two fellow Kentucky Republicans who support hemp - U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

Kentucky lawmakers are considering legislation that would strictly regulate industrial hemp production in the Bluegrass state if the federal government lifts its decade-long ban on the crop.

McConnell says Comer assured him that the state Agriculture Department would pursue hemp production in a way that doesn't compromise law enforcement efforts to eradicate marijuana.

U.S. Representative Hal Rogers disagrees, “I have yet to be convinced Kentucky needs a pathway for industrial hemp. My first concern is the challenge facing our thinly stretched marijuana eradication teams and law enforcement in visually distinguishing the two plants. This confusion and potential comingling lends itself to an easier path for illegal marijuana growth in the Commonwealth. Secondly, there appears little evidence to date that hemp will be an economic boon for Kentucky when the USDA describes the hemp market as 'small [and] thin.' Finally, we need to focus on more important issues like enacting pension reform, getting our federal deficits under control, and tackling the existing drug epidemic."

Hemp and marijuana are the same species but are genetically distinct.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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