Among the many pet projects lawmakers were able to tuck into the farm bill that passed Congress earlier this month was a measure that will allow states to grow industrial hemp for research.
Kentucky’s Republican senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, were responsible for the language, which paved the way for their state’s agriculture department to announce Monday that it planned five pilot projects to grow the crop throughout the state. They appeared with stateAgriculture Commissioner James Comer to announce five pilot projects today, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The projects are part of a larger effort to boost farming in the Appalachia region of Eastern Kentucky, which was decimated throughout the 20th century as people turned to coal mining and other factory jobs in the area.
Comer announced a variety of projects Monday that will support veterans who turn to farming, research hemp for fiber and its ability to remove environmental toxins, and grow cannabinoids for medical research.
Hemp has been banned in Kentucky since 1970 and was only brought back by the farm bill this year. According to an op-ed Paul authored for the Herald-Leader, Kentucky used to produce 94 percent of the nation’s industrial hemp until it was classified as a controlled substance like marijuana after World War II.
“Today, the United States is the only industrialized nation that restricts the production of industrial hemp. Despite the ban, millions of dollars in hemp products are sold in this country each year. One estimate says the national market for hemp products is more than $400 million. This means U.S. manufacturers must import millions of dollars in industrial hemp from foreign countries,” Paul wrote.”And it means that here in Kentucky — where we have an ideal climate for growing industrial hemp and a long history as a successful producer — our agricultural industry hasn't been able to take advantage of the jobs and opportunities that could be realized by the growth of hemp.”
Paul wrote that it was “a thrill” to break through on the issue of industrial hemp.