Kentucky's first legal planting of hemp seeds in decades is being postponed.
Officials from the Kentucky Agriculture Department, Kentucky State University, and pro-hemp groups were scheduled to plant hemp seeds Friday in Rockcastle County as part of a pilot project following the recent relaxing of state and federal rules regarding the crop.
But Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced Thursday that the event has been postponed following a standoff between his department and federal officials over a detained shipment containing 250 pounds of hemp seeds.
The Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal government, in an effort to get the shipment released by customs officials in Louisville.
Kentucky lawmakers passed a law allowing hemp to be planted as part of university-based research projects. Hemp advocates say the crop's fiber and oilseed can be used to make rope, paper, bio-fuels, cosmetics, and healthy foods.
In 1970, the federal government placed hemp on the list of Schedule One drugs, making it illegal to grow.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says federal customs officials are blocking the arrival of imported seeds brought in as part of the state's first hemp crop in decades.
Comer said Monday the delay is "government overreach at its worst."
The 250-pound shipment of hemp seeds from Italy has been in limbo for days in Louisville. Comer's chief of staff, Holly Harris VonLuehrte, says the department is prepared to go to court unless customs officials release the seeds.
Hemp production was banned when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana.
The crop's comeback began with passage of a new federal farm bill. It allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states such as Kentucky that allow the growing of hemp.
A shipment of hemp seeds from Italy has made it to Kentucky, but there’s a problem.
Customs officials in Louisville have so far refused to release the 250 pound shipment to the state Agriculture Department.
While Kentucky law was recently changed to allow the growing of hemp for university-run research projects, federal customs officials are still leery of signing off on the seed shipments. State officials say the confusion is holding up hemp seeds from getting to project locations in the commonwealth.
“I spoke with a customs official in Chicago, and once I advised her of what the law is, and what we’re doing at the Department of Agriculture, customs in Chicago released the seeds to Louisville, and now it’s just a question of getting everyone on the same page,” said Holly Harris VonLuehrte, chief of staff at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
VonLuehrte told WKU Public Radio Thursday afternoon that she thinks customs officials will sign off on the hemp seeds within “the next 24 hours.”
Kentucky's first legal hemp seeds almost didn't make it to the state. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says the first batch of industrial hemp seeds was being held by customs officials in Chicago who were unaware of Kentucky's new hemp law.
Comer said the process to get them released was stressful but says federal officials finally agreed to forward them to his office. He says once they arrive, they'll be sent to the state's six research schools to be planted by the first week of June.
Comer says his office paid for the seeds using money donated from a private source.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says the state's first hemp crop in decades will be planted next month.
Comer said Tuesday he expects hemp seeds to start arriving soon at the state Agriculture Department.
He says eight pilot projects are planned as the crop that once thrived in Kentucky is reintroduced on a small scale.
The new federal farm bill allows state agriculture departments to designate pilot projects for research in states that allow the growing of hemp.
Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation last year allowing hemp to be reintroduced, if the federal government allows its production.
The versatile crop was banned decades ago due to its ties to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has a negligible content of the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Six universities in Kentucky may now begin growing legal hemp this year. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told Kentucky Public Radio his office has received the go-ahead from the Attorney General's office to begin pilot projects with the plant.
Those projects were made possible by last year's state legislation providing a regulatory framework and a provision inserted in a recent federal farm bill. Comer says his office will begin immediately to finalize regulations concerning the growth and production of hemp.
Kentucky's agriculture commissioner says the reintroduction of hemp production will start with at least five pilot projects across the state where the crop flourished until being banned for its ties to marijuana.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Monday he doesn't know how many hemp acres will be planted this year.
The new federal farm bill allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp-cultivation pilot projects for research in states that already allow the growing of hemp. Farmers will work with university researchers to study the crop.
Central Kentucky farmer Michael Lewis says the size of his hemp crop depends on the availability of seeds.
Hemp production was banned by the federal government decades ago. Hemp and marijuana are the same species. Hemp has a negligible content of the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner is moving forward with the creation of industrial hemp pilot projects in the commonwealth.
The announcement was expected after President Obama signed a Farm Bill into law last week that allows hemp to be grown in the U.S. for research purposes. Staff members in the offices of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Attorney General Jack Conway are reviewing the bill’s language regarding pilot projects to make sure whatever happens in Kentucky is within federal guidelines.
Comer, a farmer from Monroe County, says he plans to provide more details on Kentucky's pilot hemp projects at an announcement Feb. 17. He says the projects will be based throughout different parts of the state and will have research focuses with different university affiliations.
Comer wants U.S. law enforcement agencies to allow certain hemp seeds for the pilot project to be imported. That’s one of the first steps necessary to get any form of hemp farming off the ground in this country.
According to a news release from Commissioner Comer’s office, Attorney General Conway has pledged to work for a waiver from federal drug laws that would eventually allow for the expansion of industrial hemp production for commercial purposes.
Hemp advocates are calling the Farm Bill signed into law by President Obama a major milestone for the crop.
Pro-hemp groups think research pilot programs included in the bill will lead to greater things down the road. The Farm Bill signed by the President Friday contains an amendment that legalizes hemp production in the U.S. for research purposes.
The amendment was originally introduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. Congressmen, including Republican Thomas Massie, from Kentucky’s 4th Congressional district. The amendment gives the green light to state agriculture departments and colleges and universities to grow hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes.
However, the new rules only apply to states like Kentucky that have already legalized industrial hemp farming.
The hemp issue gained momentum in the commonwealth last year, with state agriculture commissioner James Comer making legalization his top legislative priority.
Hemp farming has also been endorsed by Kentucky GOP Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, as well as the state’s only Congressional Democrat, Representative John Yarmuth of Louisville.
Hemp supporters are hailing the federal Farm Bill that Congress will vote on in coming days. The bipartisan agreement is expected to clear the House and Senate. The measure contains a provision that allows universities and state agriculture departments to grow hemp for research purposes.
“Hemp has this long history in the United States, but that history pretty much ended in the 1950s, and all the genetics are lost. We need to have research on new varieties," says Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp. "A lot of things have changed in the last 60 years, and there are new markets and opportunities.”
Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill last year that allows industrial hemp production if a federal ban is lifted.
“For months, we have tried to get some assurance at the federal level that Kentucky producers can grow industrial hemp without fear of government harassment or prosecution. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in a news release.
Comers hails the Farm Bill provision as a giant step toward restoring the crop, which used to make products ranging from clothes to cosmetics.
Hemp was banned decades ago when the government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.
Eleven states, including Tennessee, have introduced hemp legislation this year.