Kentucky: Ready for hemp?

State Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, says as an agricultural product, its time has come

By ROBYN L. MINOR, The Daily News

There is a truth that must be heard! One area lawmaker believes the state is ready to approve growing hemp as an agricultural product.

State Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, said Congress also must be on board after outlawing the production of the crop decades ago.

"But for once, I'd like to see Kentucky proactive rather than reactive," he said. "That way, once they release it, we would be ready to go."

Hemp is already widely used in the manufacturing of clothing, cosmetics and even the auto industry.

"Most of what we use or sell here is grown in Canada," Pendleton said. "Eighty-five percent of what Canada produces comes to us."

Pendleton is headed to Washington, D.C., today to talk to congressional leaders about the need to produce hemp and to get a White House briefing on the Farm Bill.

This is the second time Pendleton has made an earnest attempt to allow the production of agricultural hemp. This time he has the support of Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, he said.

"So I'm hoping that's going to help me on the other side of the aisle," Pendleton said. "I want to try to at least get a hearing and get it moving."

Comer's office said he would be interested in discussing the issue, but he couldn't be reached by press time today.

Pendleton said he plans a news conference later this month, at which he also is expected to have the support from some law enforcement officials.

"I think there is definitely merit to it," said Sam Lawson, a member of the state's Agriculture Policy Board, said of industrial hemp production. "There is a real market for it, and this is not the kind of hemp that can be made into marijuana. Most of Kentucky is uniquely suited to growing it, the state has a history of growing it back in the pre-war era.

"There may be a stigma attached to it in the general public, but most farmers think of it in terms of baler twine and that type of stuff," said Lawson, a Bowling Green businessman.

Farmers would definitely be able to benefit from growing the legitimate crop.

"It's a product that we could export for sure outside of the state and maybe even outside the country," Lawson said.

Both in Frankfort and on the federal level, agriculture's star has been rising as it has been a stabilizing force as other areas of the economy have dipped. That favor may give rise to more support of legalizing industrial hemp, Lawson said.

Pendleton said a study a few years ago by the University of Louisville showed the potential for growing hemp.

"It said it would create 17,000 jobs immediately by giving farmers another crop to grow," he said. "It would add $400 to $500 million to the state's economy each year."

In addition to the industrial uses, hemp can be used as an animal feed.

"Several years ago there was someone in the area who was growing hemp-fed beef and he was shipping it worldwide," Pendleton said. "But shipping the hemp in just got too expensive so he had to quit."

Hemp also hold promise for ethanol production, making more ethanol per acre than corn does. Over the past few years, corn-based ethanol has fallen out of favor because of the energy it takes to produce and because of the believe it takes a product out of the food chain, forcing prices there to rise.

The push for hemp production comes in the wake of the death this week of longtime Kentucky political figure Gatewood Galbraith, a Lexington attorney whose platform in campaigns for state offices often featured his support for legalized hemp.

- To follow the legislation, SB 41, go to The proposed legislation was assigned to the Senate Agriculture Committee of which Pendleton is a member.