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Kentucky leading nation on hemp

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

This week, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles submitted the Kentucky State Hemp Plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making Kentucky officially the first state in the nation to apply for approval of a hemp program.

“Kentucky’s regulatory framework perfectly aligns with the requirements spelled out in the farm bill,” Quarles said in a news release about the impressive step forward for the state. “Hemp growers, processors and manufacturers deserve swift action so they can proceed with confidence. Kentucky has led the charge on industrial hemp with bipartisan support for the past five years. Now, we are eager to take the next step toward solidifying Kentucky’s position as the epicenter of industrial hemp production and processing in the United States.”

The trendy business boom in the commonwealth these days is bourbon, but hemp is quietly getting huge, too.

As we’ve noted before, 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.

With Kentucky now ahead of everyone else in the race to produce legal hemp products, the Bluegrass State is poised to take full advantage of that potential.

That’s great news for Kentucky’s small farmers, many of which may remember a day in the not-so-distant past when a handful of acres was enough to make a good profit growing tobacco. Hemp has the potential to bring back that profitability and boost family farms at a moment when their strength may have otherwise been fading.

Kentucky already has a successful hemp pilot program, which farmers must apply to be a part of. According to Quarles’ office, more than 6,700 acres of industrial hemp was grown in Kentucky in 2018; and more than 1,000 applications have been received for the 2019 pilot program.

“Kentucky licensed processors paid Kentucky growers $7.5 million for harvested hemp in 2017 and reported $25.6 million in capital improvements and investments and $16.7 million in gross product sales,” according to a release from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

It’s ridiculous that hemp was ever made illegal in the first place, given it’s essential uselessness to anyone seeking a high. It’s taken the U.S. far too long to correct course on its ill-advised hemp policies, but now that change is finally arriving, we’re glad Kentucky is taking such a progressive stance.