Are We on the Verge of an American Hemp Renaissance?

Advocates for hemp legalization and politicians are building pressure, with the biggest push in Kentucky.

January 11, 2013  |  


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Kentucky was America’s leading hemp producer in the early 19th century.  Now, two hundreds year later, after a  historic election for drug policy has led to a shift for marijuana policy reform in America, Kentucky lawmakers are taking steps to revive the crop.  While advocates for hemp legalization say the plant could bring a wealth of green jobs to Kentucky, deep-rooted drug stigma and conflict with federal law have made the legislation’s passing unlikely. Nonetheless, two state bills are in the works, while a federal proposal aims to clear the way for state legalization.  Lawmakers suggest the bills could at least open up the conversation about hemp, and clear misconceptions about its use.

Because hemp is increasingly imported from Canada, growing and making it in the US could save the US money and create green jobs at home. Aside from soy, no other plant has shown the potential to create so many different products — from hemp soap to paper and oil. Moreover, hemp rarely requires pesticides, can be grown in the same fields over several consecutive years, and produces biodegradable plastics and biofuels. Lightweight and dense, hemp-limeis a building material that known to be an efficient insulator leaving behind a minimal carbon footprint.  

Kicking off the call for hemp production in Kentucky is KY Representative Terry Mills (D), who has pre-filed an industrial hemp bill that would allow hemp to be made from marijuana crops containing .3% THC, which, at at least one and a half times less than typical marijuana THC levels, would not get you high. T he marijuana that is psychoactive, moreover, comes from the flowering buds, leaves, and resin of the plant, while the stalks and seeds are what make  hemp.  of the cannabis plant include the flowering tops (buds), the leaves, and the resin of the cannabis plant. The remainder of the plant – stalks and sterilized seeds – is what some people refer to as “hemp.”

A federal hemp bill is indeed in the works, but  the chances of it passing in the near future are slim to none.  Called the Hemp Farming Act of 2012 U.S, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the bil this summer. Iit would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that low-THC hemp is allowed, and exempt industrial hemp from marijuana legislation.  “I’m not opposed to it,” said state Rep.  Jim DeCesare (R),  “It is a good alternative crop for the ag community.” Stil, DeCesare acknowledges the prevalent misunderstanding that the pot people smoke is just the same as hemp.

“They are not the same,” he said.  “It is going to take an education effort” for the bill to pass the state House. If they can make it happen, which is unlikely, the benefits would be immense. As Rand Paul recently wrote, “[Hemp] jobs will be ripe for the taking, and I want farmers in Kentucky to be the first in line.”

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne