Continuing measures like public education and higher taxation have forced many farmers to curtail or eliminate tobacco production.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. People are healthier for it. Other crops like corn and soybeans have taken up some of the slack.
But another cash crop like hemp could be just the thing to restore Kentucky farms to prosperity.
The old thinking on hemp was to ban it because the plant is nearly identical to a plant that produces marijuana.
Yes, both plants are from the same genus, but the species are different. They look similar, but are very different plants. Cannabis sativa produces marijuana. The hemp plant produces hemp. You can smoke it all day, and have very sore lungs. You will not get high.
Law enforcement fears hemp will be used as a smokescreen for marijuana cultivation. Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer pointed out several reasons why this would be difficult for illicit drug producers. First, every hemp producer would be required to purchase seed from approved sources.
Every farmer would be required to register his or her field with the Department of Agriculture and provide GPS coordinates.
The Kentucky State Police operate marijuana eradication patrols via helicopter. This means if they spot a hemp field, they could easily check Department of Agriculture records and confirm it is not marijuana.
Every hemp producer would be required to obtain a permit for growth. I do not know this as fact, but I would assume the producers would be subjected to a background check. I do not think the state of Kentucky would give Joe Stoner, busted three times for a pot farm in the basement, a permit to grow hemp.
Furthermore, hemp has a destabilizing effect on marijuana. Due to cross-pollination, marijuana crops hybridized with hemp do not have the THC that gives pot its potency. It’s sort of like the old horse-donkey hybridization, the mule. Mules do not reproduce. Hybridization in the plant world is not that different.
There is a federal proscription of hemp growth as well. A lot of it is based on law enforcement’s inability to identify hemp from marijuana.
It seems to me that a field test could easily be fabricated to indicate the presence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in plants. Some of the stigma dates back to the 1930’s when producers of synthetic fabrics feared losing market share to a readily grown textile product.
Federal legislators have indicated a willingness to give Kentucky a waiver on hemp production to examine growth as a pilot program. Kentucky has a chance to be a leader in an industry beyond coal production. That would put us out front of the other 49 states and a leader in a brand new industry.
Hemp requires less water than cotton. It is a ready source of fabric.
Its other uses are many. It provides a paper more durable than wood pulp and is more readily regrown than pulp-producing trees.
Hemp seed oil is a biodiesel-grade fuel. It can be made into a soy milk type product. Hemp can be worn as clothing. The oil is also a lubricant. Roasted hemp seeds are a tasty snack.
It can be processed into a non-petroleum plastic. It’s used in cosmetics. It can even be processed into a type of concrete.
In research, I learned more hemp-based products are imported to the U.S. than any other nation in the world. Why not give Kentucky farmers another cash crop, and make the state the leader in a cash crop industry? We need the jobs associated with growth and processing. Ask a farmer. He or she would probably glad for a new stream of income.