LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The hemp industry continues to boom in the Bluegrass, aided by a federal law passed last month that officially removed industrial hemp from the country's list of controlled substances, opening the door for further expansion of an industry that has been piloted in Kentucky for years.
While hemp-based products like CBD oil, which contain little or no THC, the main compound in marijuana that provides a "high," are legal, some people could still have problems at work when faced with a drug screening.
But hemp advocates hope a new bill filed in Frankfort will change that.
Shauna's Law, SB 83, protects employees using hemp-based products by establishing an appeals process for public employees. Under the provisions of the bill, introduced Friday in the state Senate, employees using a legal industrial hemp product can show a receipt for the product that they are using, and if the test result matches with that product, then the employee would be allowed to complete an appeals process.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, is named in honor of Shauna Staton, an EMT in Powell County - and a customer of Lexington-based Bluegrass Hemp Oil - who lost her job after trace amounts of THC from a hemp product she was using for pain relief showed up on a drug test. However, she appealed, and eventually got her job back.
"Shauna's Law is a no-brainer, honestly," said Adriane Polyniak, owner of Bluegrass Hemp Oil. "It protects all consumers, it doesn't put any strains on businesses, it doesn't force them to change their rules. It's just an appeals process that allows consumers to take this product and advocate for themselves and be able to stick up and do what's best for them."
Hemp-based products like CBD oil have grown in popularity as natural remedies for pain, nausea, seizures, anxiety and other ailments, although its benefits are not universally lauded. Researchers are still trying to nail down evidence of its effects.
Many customers of Kentucky Cannabis Company and Bluegrass Hemp Oil ask whether using one of their CBD products could still show up on a drug test, Polyniak told WKYT's Garrett Wymer. She explained that their products are considered "full-spectrum," which means they may contain trace amounts (0.3 percent or less) of THC. She described Shauna's Law as an effort to protect CBD users.
"It's a federally legal product - we've been selling it since 2014 - and the federal farm bill reiterated that," Polyniak said. "Why wouldn't we protect consumers for taking this federally legal product?"
Fear of failing a drug test - and subsequently losing a job - is a common concern that keeps people from trying hemp products that could help them, said Sam Cox, a lobbyist working in Frankfort to push for Shauna's Law. Taking that worry away, Cox said, would also help grow an industry that could provide a big boost to the Commonwealth.
"One should not have to fear job loss because they use a completely legal industrial hemp product such as CBD oil," Cox said, "derived from a crop that, if you look at the history of it, is deeply Kentuckian - a crop that, in my humble opinion, will work to transform the economy of Kentucky over the next decade.
"I think this (protection of public employees using hemp products) is something that has to happen," he continued. "There has to be some clarification on this issue for the hemp 'boom,' I'd call it, to continue to boom."
Kentucky's hemp industry has exploded in recent years. The state went from having only 32 acres of hemp five years ago to having 6,700 acres planted in 2018, Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles told WKYT's Garrett Wymer in an interview earlier this month.
Kentucky currently has 200 farmers growing hemp and 72 hemp companies, according to Commissioner Quarles. He said the state Department of Agriculture expects to see a 400 percent increase in the number of growers in 2019, as well as a dramatic increase in the number of companies.
As the "Shauna's Law" bill is written, its provisions for an appeal process would be mandatory for public employers and suggested for private companies. Polyniak and Cox stressed that adopting the proposal would not force businesses to change their policies, even those regarding drug tests - it would just allow for an appeal. Though it is still early in the legislative process for the bill - it has not yet been assigned to a committee - it could be the first of its kind in the country if passed, advocates said.
And advocates do not plan on stopping with SB 83. Polyniak said they are also currently drafting legislation for labeling requirements that they hope will further protect hemp product users.