, Corbin, KY


February 4, 2013

Smoke and mirrors

CORBIN — Frankfort seems suddenly enveloped in a haze. It’s not a purple haze but it’s close.

Hemp is all the rage and those for it and those against it are raging.

For a person of my age and generation there’s something funny here but I haven’t quite cut through all the smoke to figure out exactly what it is. But the folks once known as the law and order bunch are fighting the Kentucky State Police and others over whether to legalize industrial hemp.

Why, on Monday, Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who rails against environmental regulations, was trying to sell a reporter on the advisability of legalizing hemp “because it’s so green.” The same fella who ran for office a couple of years ago traveling Kentucky on a “coal and corn tour,” raging against President Barack Obama for declaring a “war on coal,” now says hemp is “sustainable” and a valuable bio-fuel.

It’s enough to make one’s head spin, even one who came of age during the flower child era.

Take a deep breath. Mitch McConnell now favors legalizing hemp. But perhaps we shouldn’t be all that surprised.

McConnell’s hero is Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser and the man who made the job of Speaker of the House a powerful and important position. Clay grew a whole lot of hemp in his day. He was also father of the American System which proposed federal subsidies for roads, canals and other “internal improvements” to develop agricultural markets. It sounds now sort of like a stimulus plan, but McConnell would rather you didn’t notice.

(The current Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is a notorious smoker but not hemp or marijuana. Ask Michelle Obama.)

The tea party in Kentucky favors legalization of hemp, another reason we shouldn’t be surprised McConnell suddenly sees the light. Tea, not hemp or marijuana, is now McConnell’s favorite herbal leaf. Those who long saw McConnell as an establishment Republican appropriator have of late been wondering what he’s been smoking.

McConnell probably hopes we’re all suffering short-term memory loss.

Kentucky is a red state, but maybe it’s becoming a purple state. Given our apparent collective distaste for Obama it’s clearly not because of our political sentiments. But proponents of an even more liberal approach to cannabis have long claimed Kentucky’s real leading cash crop is marijuana.

Why couldn’t Gatewood Galbraith have taken better care of himself and managed to live to see all of this and regale us with his wit and commentary? Galbraith said he smoked marijuana to treat his asthma and he was an early supporter of legalizing hemp.

(It reminds me of one of the impish Galbraith’s best campaign lines: “Thirty years ago, they said: ‘Gatewood, you’re 30 years ahead of your time.’ Well . . . here we are.”)

Bill Clinton is the most popular national Democrat in Kentucky but he insists he never inhaled, which doesn’t sound like it was really worth the trouble or risk or all that much fun either. Clinton reportedly favors cigars.

Maybe Democratic state Sen. Perry Clark of Louisville, who won re-election despite publicly admitting to “smoking a little weed” and is sponsoring a bill to legalize marijuana for medical uses, can join forces with Comer.

Then hemp or marijuana might take their places alongside of Kentucky’s other “signature” industries like coal, Bourbon, horse racing, basketball and tobacco.

That would further prove just how wrong Obama is about us. You see, we cling to a lot more than our guns and religion. We really love quick fixes — and our vices, too.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

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