Last updated: July 18. 2013 11:23PM - 186 Views
Cris Ritchie

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Imagine several months from now, a bill filed in the U.S. Senate has made its way through the maze of Congress, and President Obama has signed into law a measure legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp. However unlikely this scenario may be, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

But even if by some stretch of the imagination industrial hemp does become legal in America, we’re wondering exactly where Kentucky’s place will be.

Up until the Civil War, according to Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Kentucky led the nation in hemp production, where fibers from the plant were used to make rope and other materials. In today’s market, the U.S. remains the only developed country where cultivating hemp for industrial purposes is prohibited. Some states, however, have been pretty forward-looking when it comes to hemp, and to date several have approved legislation that would put into place some sort of regulatory framework allowing farmers to grow hemp in the event federal prohibitions are lifted, including California, North Dakota, and Oregon.

Kentucky is not one of those states, even after a bill with wide bi-partisan support sailed out of the Kentucky Senate earlier this year, only to be held up in the Democratically-controlled House.

There seems to be some thought among supporters of industrial hemp that its cultivation will become legal in the next few years at the latest. Commissioner Comer spoke to the Herald last year of his optimism, and said within a year he could see federal bans on hemp lifted.

The question is why exactly Kentucky’s leaders would not want to be poised to capitalize on a potential new market, even if that market is as-of-yet unknown in the U.S.? It makes little sense to hold off on a bill to establish regulations, and wait until the federal government decides to join the 21st century.

It’s a given that, considering concerns from law enforcement agencies, fields of hemp could be used to mask its botanical cousin, marijuana, so Kentucky won’t allow farmers to grow industrial hemp unless some sort of framework is place to prevent this. So, what happens when the federal government lifts its ban, and Kentucky is forced to play catch-up with states that were willing to plan ahead? Should Kentucky farmers have to wait to begin growing hemp, or should they be able to hit the ground running?

Certainly, our farmers shouldn’t have to wait if they decide growing hemp is good for them. Sadly, despite an amendment from House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins that could bring Kentucky’s hemp bill to a vote before the full House, Kentucky seems to be heading down a hempless path.

Mark Twain once said when the world ends, he wanted to be in Kentucky because Kentucky was always 20 years behind. Mark Twain died in 1910, and over 100 years later this quote seems to ring true. Let’s prove Mr. Twain wrong, and be out in front for once.

— The Hazard Herald

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