The Time may be Right for Hemp Again

December 10, 2009 – Lexington, KY – In 1996, actor Woody Harrelson made a trip to Lee County, Ky., that got him arrested. He was actually there to bring attention to the valuewoody-harrelson1 of industrial hemp by planting seeds in a local field.

Surrounded by curious onlookers and the county sheriff, Harrelson planted four seeds and was promptly taken into custody, creating a barrage of media coverage and raising the question once again as to whether hemp should be legal to grow in a state that once led the nation in its production.

According to some resources, hemp is the oldest fiber plant known to man, showing up as early as 4500 B.C. in China. Its uses have covered everything from food to medicine to clothing. Today it is widely considered to be one of the best biomasses available for alternative fuel production. It also needs no pesticides to flourish.

Yet, with all these uses and advantages and 10 years after the Harrelson episode, hemp is still illegal to grow in this country, mostly because of its proximity with a close relative known as marijuana and parts of the plant are considered controlled substances.

The two are actually varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant with one big difference: the presence of ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol.) Hemp contains less than one percent of THC, while marijuana can contain between 10 and 20 percent of it.

It is THC that causes a “high” when smoking marijuana, and many feel if you allow legal hemp, the illegal variety will follow.

But one Kentucky state senator feels the time has come for industrial hemp to be an agriculture staple once again.

Senator Joey Pendleton from Hopkinsville has pre-filed a bill for the upcoming General Assembly session that will make growing industrial hemp legal once again.

“It’s basically a very simple bill,” he said. “It states you have to have a license issued through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to grow it, and as a safety net, local sheriffs’ departments would be the ones to go out and inspect the fields and test them for THC.”

The bill will also include a fee that will be divided equally between the state and local sheriff’s department that are involved in inspections.

All this would depend on the federal government giving the okay to individual states to pass such legislation.

A bill was introduced in Congress last April by Ron Paul, R-Texas, to do just that.

According to the official language of that bill, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009 “amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of ‘marijuana.’ Defines ‘industrial hemp’ to mean the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-nine tetrahydrocannabinol concentration that does not exceed 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. Grants a state regulating the growing and processing of industrial hemp exclusive authority, in any criminal or civil action or administrative proceeding, to determine whether any such plant meets that concentration limit.”

“The United States is the only industrialized nation that prohibits industrial hemp cultivation,” Paul said. “The Congressional Research Service has noted that hemp is grown as an established agricultural commodity in over 30 nations in Europe, Asia, North America and South America. It is unfortunate that the federal government has stood in the way of American farmers, including many who are struggling to make ends meet, competing in the global industrial hemp market. Indeed, the founders of our nation, some of whom grew hemp, would surely find that federal restrictions on farmers growing a safe and profitable crop on their own land are inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of a limited, restrained federal government.”

While it is illegal to grow here, it isn’t illegal to buy products made from the plant. But the one thing that may be of the most interest right now is its ability to become a leading crop in the production of alternative fuels.

“Hemp will produce more ethanol per acre than one acre of corn,” said Pendleton. “It requires less fertilization than a corn or bean crop would require. If you are raising it for the seed, it will take about 120 days for it to mature to harvest. If you are growing it for ethanol purposes or for the oil to make biodiesel, it will take 60 to 90 days. With our growing season, I can see that it would be a good crop to follow up behind wheat. I’m not sure we couldn’t get two crops a year out of it.”

Pendleton said he is sure enough that federal permission will be granted and he wanted to be ahead of other states in preparing for growing the crop.

“We need to proceed swiftly with this bill and be proactive and not reactive, as Kentucky has done so many times before. We know the crop will grow here,” he said.

Pendleton has talked to many groups around the state, including some of his legislative colleagues and some in law enforcement, who voiced their support, according to the senator. The reaction so far has been all positive, he said.

“I think the reason we are seeing so much positive reaction to hemp now is partially because of what’s happening with the economy, the need for a biomass, and it will give our farmers another crop,” said Pendleton. “I think if we produce it here, we’ll see factories come in, and that will put people back to work.” by Tim Thornberry. Source.

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