These industrial hemp plants were grown for fiber and grain in France. (Courtesy: Aleks on Wikimedia)
HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - It is a controversial topic for some, but two government officials think that hemp could help the economy here in the bluegrass.
Sen. Rand Paul and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said they hope federal restrictions may soon be lifted so industrial hemp production can begin in Kentucky. Experts said the product was used around 200 years ago to make rope. Not everyone said they thought it was a good idea.
Paul and Comer are pushing for hemp to return to the bluegrass. Experts said the level of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, is different from the street drug.
“The THC concentration of the illicit marijuana is 6, 8, 12, 14 percent,” said Ed Shemelya, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, HIDTA, Marijuana Coordinator.
“Hemp is classified as one and a half or less.”
Paul is sponsoring legislation seeking to lift federal restrictions by amending the Controlled Substances Act.
“The controlled substance act does not distinguish between hemp and Sativa, they are one in the same, so it is illegal,” said Shemelya, a 30-year-veteran of the Kentucky State Police.
Officials said the proposed legislation would exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. Comer said hemp is a money maker and the commonwealth had just the right environment for the cash crop.
“Kentucky has the perfect soil and the climate to be the nation’s top producer of industrial hemp and studies show that it could be the third most profitable crop in Kentucky,” Comer said.
Others disagreed and said they did not think it would help the economy.
“I tout what happened in Canada 10 years ago when they went and legalized hemp for an agricultural commodity,” said Shemelya.
“They found out very soon that the market became very saturated almost over night to the point where the government ended up having to subsidize the farmers, warehouse the product and ultimately destroy the product because there was not any market for it.”
Experts said, if hemp growing were legalized, even if restrictions were put in place, it would be difficult to monitor who is growing what.
“It would be an enforcement nightmare, not only financially on the Kentucky State Police trying to test the product and say ‘is this hemp or is this an illicit product?’” said Shemelya.
Shemelya said it would also be difficult to eradicate the illicit product “because you can't distinguish it.”
Shemelya said there is no way to tell without a laboratory analysis, which he said was cost prohibitive.
Paul said because other countries have legalized hemp, he believes we are at a “competitive disadvantage.” Comer said he believes the industrialization of hemp would mean job creation.
Sen. Joey Pendleton (D) Hopkinsville said it was something that had been proven when the issue was discussed at a news conference back in January.
“University of Louisville did a study several years ago and said it would create 17,000 jobs immediately,” said Pendleton.
Other representatives said the multitude of uses would make it marketable.
“Construction products can be made from hemp, studs, beams, posts. And you know what the greatest thing about them is? They are durable and lightweight,” said Rep. Richard Henderson (D) Jeffersonville.
For more information, just log onto http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112s3501is/pdf/BILLS-112s3501is.pdf