Kentucky: Support for hemp grows, advocates say
In Kentucky, lobbying effort for legalizing versatile plant rolls on
By Associated Press Staff
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hemp isn't legal in Kentucky yet, but the eclectic mix of people at a recent seminar in Lexington was evidence that support for the versatile plant may be taking root.
One by one, elected officials stepped forward to promote the virtues of hemp production, staking out a position that once might have sown political trouble back home. They were cheered by liberals and libertarian-leaning conservatives alike.
"We've come a long way," said state Sen. Joey Pendleton, who has sponsored a string of unsuccessful bills seeking to reintroduce hemp in the Bluegrass state. "The first year I had this, it was lonely."
Kentucky once was a leading producer of industrial hemp, a tall, leafy plant with a multitude of uses that has been outlawed for decades because of its association with marijuana. Those seeking to legalize the plant argue that the change would create a new crop for farmers, replacing a hemp supply now imported from Canada and other countries.
The plant can be used to make paper, biofuels, clothing, lotions and other products.
Despite bipartisan support, the latest hemp measures failed again this year in the Kentucky General Assembly. But this time, hemp advocates think they have momentum on their side and vow to press on with their campaign to legalize the crop.
Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, urged his fellow hemp supporters to lobby hard in preparation for another push in 2013.
"I think next year is the year," said Pendleton, whose grandfather raised hemp in western Kentucky.
Hemp bills have been introduced in 11 state legislatures this year, but so far none have passed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The bills include allowing privately funded industrial hemp research, allowing hemp production under strict licensing programs and urging the federal government to allow hemp production for industrial uses.
Hemp's reputation has undergone drastic pendulum swings in the U.S.
During World War II, the U.S. government encouraged farmers to grow hemp for the war effort because other industrial fibers, often imported from overseas, were in short supply. But the crop hasn't been grown in the U.S. since the 1950s as the federal government moved to classify hemp as a controlled substance because it's related to marijuana.
Hemp proponents argue the plant contains little of the mind-altering chemical THC.
Someone would have to "smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole," to get high from hemp, Roger Johnson, a hemp supporter and president of the National Farmers Union, said in a telephone interview.
Johnson has seen strong support for hemp in North Dakota, where he formerly served as state agriculture commissioner.
Two North Dakota farmers received the state's first licenses to grow industrial hemp in 2007, but they never received approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The farmers sued, but a federal appeals court affirmed a lower court decision dismissing the suit.
The federal Controlled Substances Act does not differentiate between marijuana and hemp, said Barbara Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman. As a result, "we would not approve applications to grow hemp because it is marijuana," she said.
Because of that, Johnson called for a grassroots push for congressional action to legalize hemp production.