Kentucky: A cash crop for the commonwealth

By Bailey Richards, Hazard Herald, Staff Reporter

There is a truth that must be heard! Economic development is something we talk about a lot in the Herald office. Sure, it may not be the juiciest of water cooler gossip, but it is something we are all affected by and hear about almost daily.

It is part of our jobs to know the news, and lately the news about the local economy has all been negative. We hear about layoffs, cut backs, and people being forced to move away for employment.

Someone recently asked me why people are poor, and my answer was surprisingly similar to why I believe I am. I know what I like to do and being in a creative field, be it in an office, on the street, or in front of an easel, was always something I was going to do.

The people of Eastern Kentucky are no different; they know what they want to do. Many of them want to stay close to home, have lucrative employment and be a part of their community, but as jobs move away from the area this becomes harder and lower paying jobs replace the formerly high paying employment. This creates a question, do you become poor but live where you want to be and who you want to be around, or leave and take a chance at making more money? This isn’t a choice I wish upon anyone, but there may be another way.

Right now, the commonwealth of Kentucky is in a hot debate over the legality of growing hemp. While this could be a great way for Kentucky to fight back against job loss, it remains a controversial crop.

Unlike many common misconceptions, hemp is not marijuana. It is, however, a closely related plant and can contain low levels of THC, though it cannot be used as a drug as the levels are far too low.

The fear has often been due to how closely related the plants are that people could start growing large fields of the illegal drug without being caught. Despite this, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has been in favor of legalizing the crop due to how lucrative it could be for the commonwealth. He has even stated that the agriculture office would work to insure that only legal and commercial crops are being grown.

Hemp can be used for essentially anything. The seeds contain highly lubricating oils used in cars and many industrial purposes. This oil can also be used as a bio fuel. The fibrous stalk of the plant can be used for paper, clothing, building material, jewelry, and even plastics.

Hemp can be used to make hypoallergenic foods such as hemp milk. Hemp is currently used in frozen foods such as waffles in certain parts of the world. It can even be brewed into beer.

Hemp can be grown on just about any plot of land and can be sold to hundreds of different industries in the U.S. that currently have to import products containing hemp.

Only two states in the U.S. currently allow the sale of hemp licenses, meaning that Kentucky could have the potential to get in on the ground floor of an emerging industry. Kentucky is one of several states holding off on selling licenses for growing hemp since it is still illegal, according to the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Large stretches of flat land that have been mined across the region and are waiting for that one great industry to come in and take a hold. Where miners once dug coal to create these workable spaces, maybe their children can farm or run factories that turn raw material into product.

Making hemp legal would not change the status of marijuana as a drug, but would create economic growth in the area. One local group working to push the government to make hemp legal recently started a new Facebook page. Kentuckians for Industrial Hemp wants to see Kentucky go back to its agricultural roots and keep Kentuckians in Kentucky through job creation.