There was a time when I’d have been wary about the idea of legalizing the growing of industrial hemp, but as I learn more about the plant, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me there aren’t many legitimate reasons for not growing it.
Our soils and climate in Kentucky are very well suited for the plant. Hemp requires little fertilization or use of pesticides, unlike most crops, which would make the production of the plant easy on the environment.
If we grew it, we’d need facilities to process the plant, which could provide hundreds of jobs for the non-farming community. There are dozens of uses for hemp, which can be used for bio fuel, as a food source, to create clothing, paper and even plastics.
Agricultural Commissioner James Comer is strongly advocating legislation to make it legal to grow hemp again in Kentucky. In a recent article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, he pointed out that Kentucky was the nation’s leading producer of hemp around the turn of the nineteenth century.
Betsy Ross stitched up the first American flag which was made from hemp and the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were written on paper made from hemp.
The demand for hemp is already here. Last year, approximately 400 million dollars worth of hemp products were sold in the United States, although it remains illegal to grow it here. We import most of our hemp from China and some from Canada.
The Huff Post Green website recently listed five good reasons hemp should be legal:
•Hemp would save trees as it makes a more durable paper.
•Hemp burns cleaner than any other fuel and is suitable for making ethanol fuel.
•Hemp deposits carbon dioxide into the soil, thus revitalizing it, and increasing the yield of plants grown on the same ground later.
•Hemp contains the strongest plant fibers and can be used in making clothing, carpet, furniture and plastics.
•Hemp can be used as a food source. Its seeds and oil are edible and a great source of protein. Hemp is used in hair and skin products.
According to an article in the Herald-Leader, Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer opposes the idea of growing industrial hemp in Kentucky, claiming that the plants are very hard to tell apart.
Comer, however, says the two look very different. Industrial hemp is grown for its thick stalks and is taller and spindlier, while marijuana, which is grown for its buds and flowers, is a shorter, bushier plant.
Industrial hemp contains little of THC, the compound that causes a high in marijuana users, so smoking it would be pointless.
Comer pointed out that, because of cross-pollination, planting industrial hemp near marijuana would ruin the marijuana plant’s ability to make a person high. He said law enforcement should be for the growing of hemp, rather than against it.
This makes perfect sense to any gardener, who knows you don’t plant sweet corn with field corn if you want to maintain its sweetness, and if you plant squash next to gourds, they become as hard and tasteless as the gourds.
Why did industrial hemp become illegal in the first place? Because industrial hemp got lumped in with marijuana as a schedule-I controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration many years ago, mainly because the plant is of the same species as marijuana.
Public opinion is turning as people have become educated about the differences in marijuana and industrial hemp.
Political leaders from all parties are taking note of the potential of hemp to provide jobs and economic growth.
Other states are poised to seize this opportunity, none better suited for growing the crop than Kentucky, who has yet to find a crop with the income-producing ability that tobacco once provided.
Many fertile farms lie idle in Estill County and surrounding counties. The few who choose to farm have to work second jobs because they can’t make a living on farming alone. Industrial hemp could help keep families on the farm.
Sure, there will be issues to work out. Fields might have to be inspected, and farmers will most likely need to get some sort of permit to grow and sell the crop.
Still, I hope that national and local leaders act quickly to legalize the growing of industrial hemp.
Ignorance has cost us too much for too long.