Friday, October 23, 2015

Industrial Hemp Update: Kentucky Hemp Blazes Forward

Written by Stephen Kenney

Many Kentucky farmers have been tobacco farmers for all of their lives.  They have seen days when Kentucky’s tobacco crop grossed nearly a billion dollars a year.  Anti-smoking campaigns and high taxes on cigarettes have contributed to a decreased demand for tobacco.  The new hope for these old tobacco farmers is cannabis sativa otherwise known as hemp.  The issue is that at this point hemp is just as illegal as marijuana.

Hemp once dominated the Kentucky landscape when the crop was needed to support the war effort in WWII.  The government temporarily allowed and encouraged farmers to grow hemp to support the military.  Hemp was used for rigging, towing, thread for shoes, and parachute webbing.

The main difference between hemp and marijuana is the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) present in the plant.  Hemp has a THC level below point-three percent.  Marijuana has THC levels that vary between one-percent and twenty-percent.  Hemp also has valuable industrial potential.  “The fiber can be used in rope, clothing, building materials, even car dashboards,” according to PBS.

The Kentucky State Police are not as excited by the possible industrial use of hemp. The state police say that it is impossible to distinguish between hemp and marijuana with aerial surveillance which is how they discover and destroy most of the marijuana grown in the state.  Their other concern is the unscrupulous farmer.  They say it would be too easy for a farmer to grow a few marijuana plants under the cover of a field of hemp.

James Comer, the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, has been leading the movement to change hemp's legal status.  When Comer took office in 2012 he pushed the state legislature to pass a law that would create a framework for a Kentucky hemp industry.  The potential industry still needed federal government support.  Senator Mitch McConnell provided that support by adding a measure to the 2014 Farm Bill that extended the right to grow and study industrial hemp from colleges and universities to state agriculture departments.  The measure has paved the way for states to license individual farmers to grow hemp.  Uncertainty still remains as to the legal status of industrial hemp, but Kentucky is moving forward with licensing farmers.

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