WASHINGTON — A chance encounter at last weekend’s Kentucky Derby may have given the hemp industry the break it’s been looking for since the crop was banned in 1970, when the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.
Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, a Republican, told The Huffington Post that he was at a private pre-derby party on Saturday when he found himself chatting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his chief of staff Mike Sommers. Comer talked shop.
The topic at hand was the fate of the hemp industry in Kentucky, which could become the first state in the nation to successfully lobby for federal approval. Boehner and Sommers were interested enough to invite Comer and the chief supporters of the state’s legalization bill to a meeting in Washington.
On Tuesday night, Boehner sat down with Comer and the bill’s lead backers, Republican state Sen. Paul Hornback and Democrat Jonathan Miller, a former Kentucky state treasurer who currently serves on the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission (and who also moonlights as a HuffPost blogger). Sommers confirmed the meeting took place.
According to Comer, Boehner told the trio he would talk with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about how a federal bill might be moved forward to remove hemp from the list of controlled substances. On Thursday, Comer and the Kentucky legislators plan to meet with McConnell, who surprised observers back home by endorsing Hornback’s hemp bill, a move that quickly brought the state GOP in line.
The most likely path to passage for hemp legislation runs through the farm bill, as an amendment. That bill goes up for debate in the Senate Agriculture Committee next week — fortuitous timing for hemp.
“I was impressed with his knowledge of this issue,” Comer said of Boehner. “At the end he said, ‘This is funny, because this issue’s been around a long time. My daughter was talking about this 15 years ago.’ So this is something he knows a lot about. And the difference today, as opposed to 10 years ago, is the only people who were pushing this issue 10 years ago were the extreme right or left, or people who wanted to legalize marijuana.” Comer spoke with HuffPost and a Roll Call reporter in the office of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), their home base while they’re in Washington, working with the group Vote Hemp, which advocates on behalf of the industry.