Reverse foolish federal policy on industrial hemp

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Sheriff, judge-executive support changing law

By Ben Carlson

Count me among those who wish the federal government would for once listen to Sen. Rand Paul and lift its ridiculous prohibition on industrial hemp.
Count, too, our sheriff and judge-executive, both of whom have climbed on the hemp bandwagon based on the opportunities it provides for jobs and industry.
All of Kentucky is buzzing on hemp, although not the way you might think. Unlike its ugly sister marijuana, hemp is the none-dopey version of the plant that can be used for everything from shingles to clothing to oil, plus it doesn’t get people stoned.
Once a major cash crop in Kentucky, hemp was an early casualty in the war on drugs when scared-straight Americans began to view the plant’s five-pointed leaf as negatively as long-haired young men dodging the draft and young liberated women burning their bras.
When the state’s hemp commission turned up the heat on the topic earlier this year, I asked Sheriff Troy Young — a 25-year DARE veteran — for his take on the possibility of legalizing industrial hemp.
“I’m for it,” Young said. “If it’s good for our farmers, then why not? Our farmers are struggling right now and if everything I’m being told about hemp is true, I don’t see a problem with it.”
Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway said industrial hemp would be welcome in Anderson County.
“I’m all in favor of it,” said Conway. “It could create jobs right here, and we have a perfect centralized location for it as well as a hemp processing plant.”
Industrial hemp has been met with stiff resistance in some corners of the law enforcement universe for fear that marijuana growers would be able to hide their illegal plants in legal hemp fields.
Hide them, yes, but not many stoners are eager to light up what would amount to bunk weed after their marijuana plants cross-pollinate and are ruined by the hemp plants.
In fact, marijuana plants grown within a mile of large hemp fields would likely be ruined.
For his part, Sen. Paul has been singing hemp’s praises for several years, and has a staunch ally in state agriculture commissioner James Comer. Both want the product to be legally grown in Kentucky, which is perfectly situated in terms of climate and soil.
“Let me share an example of the economic potential for industrial hemp,” Paul wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal column.
“Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps is based in California and sells products made from hemp plants. David Bonner, the company’s CEO, says it grossed over $50 million in sales this past year. But since the production of industrial hemp is outlawed in America, the company must import 100 percent of the hemp used in their products from other countries.
“They send hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars every year to other countries because American farmers are not allowed to grow this plant. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not allow the legal growth of hemp.”
Anderson County, which almost certainly produced hemp before it was outlawed by the federal government, is a prime location for both fields and factory.
Once a bastion of the golden leaf, Anderson County farmers now till but a fraction of the land that was once fitted each year for tobacco.
According to Extension agent Tommy Yankey, farmers here tilled roughly 900 acres for tobacco in 1997. This past year they tilled just a third of that amount of land, leaving plenty of room for fields here and across the state fitted with industrial hemp.
As Conway pointed out, with our proximity to major highways, rail and water, Anderson County is also a perfect centralized location for a processing plant, which would benefit many more than just local farmers.
It’s time for the federal government to get out of the way on this issue and allow Kentuckians to once again prosper with a product that would be beneficial for the entire nation.