Industrial Hemp: And Kentucky Shall Lead Us

In What’s Up with Hemp in Washington?, we explored how Washington legalized industrial hemp with passage of Initiative 502, but has done nothing by way of regulating it for actual production. Washington’s hemp issues aside, we believe industrial hemp is not getting nearly the attention it deserves. Hemp has the potential to rise again as a major industrial crop in the United States and the mainstream media has for the most part simply ignored this. But one state has hit the ground running by implementing a sustainable industrial hemp program.  That state is Kentucky and right now it has first dibs to be the leader in industrial hemp.

Industrial hemp cultivation is just as complicated as marijuana when it comes to Federal law. The production of industrial hemp remains illegal under Federal law, unless you have a hemp cultivation permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration — which almost never happens.  However, the 2014 Federal farm bill provides an exception to penalties under the Controlled Substance Act if industrial hemp is cultivated by a state Departments of Agriculture, colleges, and universities for academic or agricultural research purposes only.

So, why is Kentucky relatively special when it comes to industrial hemp? Because of the following:

1. It’s one of only three states to have passed legislation that allows designated farmers to produce industrial hemp under regulation — rather than to have legalized industrial hemp without further action.

2. It’s one of only three states to have successfully obtained its first batch of hemp seeds after a drawn-out fight with the Federal government.

3. Its climate is well-suited to hemp production, with some of its pilot industrial hemp fields reaching “shoulder height“;

4. It claims to be the only state to have definite and protected legal means of obtaining more hemp seeds in the future, after having settled the matter of seed importation once and for all with the DEA in August this year.

5. Kentucky wants to be the U.S. industrial hemp leader. Its Agriculture Commissioner, James Comer, has already made clear to the media that “industrial hemp will be a significant industry in the United States in the next 10 years …. And today, Kentucky is the leader in this crop.” Comer is pushing for further deregulation of industrial hemp in Kentucky so that “private farmers who want to grow the product would not have to get a license from the Department of Agriculture to do so.”

What will Kentucky do with the hemp it produces this year? One large grower has a Wisconsin businessman interested in its entire crop and the State itself is contemplating turning the hemp into “concrete for construction and highway sound barriers, automotive matting and insulation for homes.”

Kentucky is already famous for its bluegrass and its bourbon and it’s looking like hemp will soon be on that list. Kudos to Kentucky for having the foresight to take the lead on what will likely turn out to be a highly lucrative crop.