Legislation was recently passed by the Senate that would update Kentucky law setting regulations for hemp production in the state that’s at the leading edge in the crop’s comeback. Senators voted 35-0 after little talk to send the bill to the House. It was a big change from four years ago, when Kentucky’s original law that laid the groundwork for state farmers to eventually grow brought stiff resistance.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, one of the bill’s sponsors stated, “It has gone mainstream, and a lot of the concerns that were expressed four years ago have proven to be unfounded.” The state’s experiment with hemp production is yielding more acreage and processors. State agricultural officials approved 209 applications from growers, allowing them to produce up to 12,800 acres of hemp this year. Experimental projects began in the state with a mere 33 acres in 2014. In 2016, almost 140 growers were approved to plant up to 4,500 acres.
Growing hemp without a federal permit has long been banned because of its classification as a controlled substance related to cannabis. Hemp and cannabis are the same species, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives cannabis users a high. Hemp got a limited reprieve from the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which allows state agriculture departments to assign hemp projects for research and development. Kentucky’s initial hemp law was enacted before Congress permitting hemp’s limited return. State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles recently stated, “There were a lot of things that could not have been predicted about the Farm Bill exemption. So this basically better aligns Kentucky law with the Farm Bill.”
The bill would broaden circumstances to ban people from being involved in hemp to include those convicted of any type of felony or any drug-related misdemeanors or violations. Currently, the 10-year restraint applies to people convicted of drug-related felonies. The measure would put into state law an appeals process for people denied licenses to grow hemp or those who have their licenses revoked. The state agriculture department started the appeals process this year as part of department policy for people turned down for licenses. The legislation is the product of months of work by University of Kentucky agriculture officials, the state agriculture department, and Kentucky State Police.