Not so many years ago in the United
States, the hemp plant was widely grown for its fiber and seed. But
hemp has fallen out of favor in the United States, partly due to its
close relation to marijuana. Cultivating either is illegal, although
that may change. Kentucky, once one of the leading hemp producers in the
nations, is looking to revive the industry. Angela Hatton has the
Shirts, bags, jewelry, and twine are among the hemp merchandise that Murray retail store owner Valerie Hancock sells.
don’t pick things because they’re hemp, but I know that I have
customers that come in who look specifically for hemp items or items
that do contain hemp."
Hancock says the hemp for her products is
cultivated and refined overseas, in countries like Turkey and Tibet.
However, legislation headed for the 2010 Kentucky General Assembly would
allow Hancock to buy her hemp from regional farmers. Senator Joey
Pendleton of Hopkinsville is sponsoring a measure to legalize industrial
hemp. Pendleton has backed the bill before, but he says this time is
"Now that the federal government is saying we’re
going to give it back to the states; if they want to legalize it and be
able to grow it, that’s up to them.’ And that’s why I got excited about
it, and I think honestly that’s the reason you’re seeing this thing’s
catching on now."
Pendleton expects the Obama administration to
formally announce in November or December that it will not interfere
with a state’s desire to legalize hemp. Pendleton believes Kentucky
would greatly benefit from hemp production. Advocates for the plant
point to its many uses over 25,000 to date according to information from
to the North American Industrial Hemp Council. Those uses include
cosmetics, car door panels, sun tan lotion and pressboard. As the
Commonwealth focuses on a renewable energy plan, Pendleton says he’s
become interested in hemp’s use as a bio-fuel.
"You make more bio-diesel or ethanol from an acre of hemp than you can from an acre of corn."
In the past, Pendleton says he’s heard outcry from law enforcement at the proposition of legalizing hemp, but not so this time.
"But I think they’re understanding more. Now the industrial hemp doesn’t have the THC that the smoking kind has."
leaves contain less than one percent of the psychoactive chemical
tetrahydrocannabinol, while marijuana leaves contain three to twenty
percent THC. But not so fast, says Kentucky State Police spokesman
Trooper John Hawkins. He says the KSP still very much opposes industrial
hemp. Hawkins says it and marijuana are the same species, cannabis
"It’s very difficult for us to determine by sight which
one is hemp and which one is marijuana. So from an eradication
standpoint it would make our job much more difficult."
Also Hawkins says the results of cross pollination between hemp and marijuana aren’t known.
"You may get a lower THC content in marijuana, but you also may get a higher content with the hemp plant."
Pendleton says this wouldn’t be an issue because illegal drug growers
wouldn’t want to take the risk of diluting their crop. According to hemp
farmers, their plant is usually harvested before the buds that contain
THC develop. Farmers also plant hemp close together, further
distinguishing it from marijuana, where plots are spread out.
Even though the organization opposes industrial hemp, Hawkins says the KSP won’t move to block the measure.
"We just don’t do that. If the legislature requests information from the state police, we’ll provide that."
believes Kentucky stands poised on the frontlines of hemp production,
with a growing season twice as long as Canada’s, the state’s potential
rival to the north. They’ve been cultivating hemp for over a decade.
Other states too, including North Dakota and Maine, are working toward
their own hemp infrastructures. In Kentucky, Pendleton says the hemp
issue is win-win.
"I think with the way the economy is now, the
agriculture community is looking for another crop. We’re looking at
biomass as to have an alternative there to corn. And then people are
looking at number of people that’s laid off; this will create jobs to
get factories to come here to make things out of the product."
2010 General Assembly is still months ahead and there’s no way to know
for sure what greeting the hemp bill will receive in the legislature.
But if Pendleton and his supporters are correct, this could be one seed
that doesn’t die on the Senate floor.
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