Hemp is a good way to grow Kentucky’s economy

Published 6:52 am Thursday, August 30, 2018


The Advocate-Messenger

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell are both doing the state’s economy a big favor with their work to legalize and increase production of industrial hemp.

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McConnell has put in the political capital and planning in Washington to get legalization of the crop into the next farm bill, which is expected to pass Congress in September. Quarles has advocated for pilot hemp programs in Kentucky and helped them grow so the state is better prepared to take advantage of full legalization when it arrives.

“Industrial hemp is a crop that connects our past to our future,” Quarles said Tuesday, when he visited Danville to speak at the Boyle County Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon. “… Kentucky is positioned to benefit the most out of any other state, if and when it’s legalized, when it’s decoupled from its illicit cousin (marijuana) at the federal level.”

As many now know, hemp is genetically related to marijuana, but it doesn’t have enough of the psychoactive compounds found in marijuana to get anyone high. Instead, it can be used to create all kinds of products, from paper and textiles to fuel and clothing. Hemp is strong and incredibly useful; it can also be less harmful to the environment than other materials.

Hemp was once a popular and profitable crop, but after it got lumped in with marijuana as an illicit drug, it disappeared from America’s farms. The last hemp crop was grown in 1958 in Wisconsin, according to Forbes, and “by 1970, the Controlled Substances Act formally prohibited cultivation.”

But hemp has been making a comeback in recent years, thanks to more awareness of science, increased acceptance of marijuana and the work of people like Quarles and McConnell.

There are 200 farmers growing hemp in Kentucky right now, Quarles said Tuesday. The potential once the crop is fully legal is much, much bigger.

The U.S. hemp market was $291 million last year, but it could grow by more than 450 percent to more than $6.5 billion by 2021, according to reporting from Marijuana Business Daily, citing research by the Brightfield Group.

Kentucky is already a leading producer of hemp in the nation, so our economy is poised to receive a big chunk of that growth. Boyle County farmers can be among those who benefit directly, but a rising tide also lifts all boats — we all stand to benefit from the added economic growth.