industrial hemp

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.

Hemp Proponents Take Their Case to Nation's Capital

Nov 18, 2013

Hemp supporters will rally in Washington D.C. Monday.

Members of Vote Hemp and other groups are descending on the nation’s capital for Hemp Lobby Day to convince Congress to lift a federal ban on the plant for industrial use.

Earlier this year Kentucky lawmakers approved the research and cultivation of hemp, but it has yet to be implemented because the federal government still considers the crop a controlled substance.

The dilemma has pitted two potential gubernatorial candidates against one another: Hemp supporter and state Agricultural Commissioner James Comer, and Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway issued an opinion in September stating that under the federal ban, hemp remains illegal in the state.

“Sometimes it’s my job to say what the law is, not what I want the law to be," said the Attorney General. "I support industrial hemp, I think we can make it work. If it can create jobs, great. Now, is it the panacea for all of Kentucky’s agricultural woes? I don’t know.”

Attorney General Jack Conway is advising Kentucky leaders that industrial hemp farming remains illegal in the commonwealth.

Conway issued an advisory letter on Wednesday to Gov. Steve Beshear, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and others to clarify current law related to hemp. The letter appears to deflate hopes of hemp farming proponents who have said they'd like to begin planting next year.

Kentucky lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow farmers to grow the crop if the federal government ever lifts a longstanding ban. But Attorney General Conway said that ban remains firmly in place.

The state agriculture department recently issued a news release saying it was instructed by the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to begin drawing up regulations for hemp farming in the commonwealth. That came on the heels of comments by Justice Department officials that the federal government had no intention of prosecuting hemp farmers.

Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Commission is serving notice to the federal government that it plans to move forward with creating regulations for hemp production in the commonwealth.

A news release from the state agriculture department says staff members have been instructed to begin the process of writing rules for the development of the long-banned crop. The state’s industrial hemp commission is calling for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Senator Rand Paul to write a letter to the U.S. Justice Department to “make Kentucky’s intentions known.”

Recent changes to state law have opened the door to future hemp production in Kentucky, although growing the crop is still technically illegal under federal rules.

But Commissioner Comer is pointing to recent statements by a Justice Department official who said the federal government has no intentions of prosecuting hemp farmers.

"Surely...no entity will seek to throw up a government obstacle to moving forward with another opportunity for Kentucky farmers and for manufacturing jobs."

A study conducted by the University of Kentucky contains mixed results concerning the economic viability of growing hemp. Hemp supporters have been pushing to get the crop legalized at both the state and federal levels, saying it could create thousands of jobs and help boost the bottom lines of farmers.

The UK study says hemp could be a profitable option for some farmers in central Kentucky, but not everywhere.

The Chairman of UK’s agriculture economics department told the Courier-Journal that he didn’t want to portray the study as a “negative outcome”, saying the crop “should be viewed as one more opportunity amid many opportunities for farmers." Leigh Maynard said there would be a big “learning curve” for producers and processes to climb, given that growing hemp in the U.S. has been illegal for decades.

Maynard said it's likely hemp could become a niche crop for some farmers. Hemp seeds can be used to make fuel, foods, and personal care products.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has made hemp legalization his chief legislative priority, and says he’s optimistic about the crop’s future despite the study. According to Comer, it’s difficult to estimate the economic impact of an industry that doesn’t exist.

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