Hemp Growing Finds Allies in Kentucky

Feb 14, 2013

In 1996 the actor Woody Har­rel­son, who has a side­line as an activist for legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, was arrested in Ken­tucky for plant­ing four hemp seeds. Last month Sen­a­tor Mitch McConnell, the Repub­li­can minor­ity leader, announced his sup­port for grow­ing hemp in Ken­tucky, his home state. Between those jar­ringly dis­parate events lies the evo­lu­tion of hemp from a coun­ter­cul­tural cause to an issue cham­pi­oned by farm­ers in the heart­land and con­ser­v­a­tive law­mak­ers. On Mon­day, a panel of the Republican-controlled Ken­tucky State Sen­ate unan­i­mously approved a bill to license hemp grow­ers. It was pro­moted by the state agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner and three mem­bers of the state’s Con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, includ­ing Sen­a­tor Rand Paul, who removed his jacket to tes­tify in a white shirt that he announced was made of hemp fibers. If the bill is approved by the full Leg­is­la­ture, Ken­tucky will join eight other states that have adopted laws to allow com­mer­cial hemp grow­ing, although the prac­tice is effec­tively blocked by fed­eral law that makes no dis­tinc­tion between hemp and mar­i­juana. Mr. Paul, a Repub­li­can, said he would seek a waiver from the Obama admin­is­tra­tion for Ken­tucky hemp grow­ers, while press­ing Con­gress to delist hemp as a con­trolled sub­stance, which hemp sup­port­ers say is a legacy of antidrug hys­te­ria. Both plants are the same species, Cannabis sativa, but hemp has only a trace of the psy­choac­tive ingre­di­ent in mar­i­juana. Hemp’s cham­pi­ons see it as a source of agri­cul­tural jobs, an alter­na­tive for strug­gling tobacco farm­ers and a won­der plant with uses from blue­jeans to build­ing mate­ri­als. Atti­tudes are chang­ing in sur­pris­ing places. At a hear­ing on Mon­day in Frank­fort, the Ken­tucky cap­i­tal, the state police commissioner’s oppo­si­tion to hemp grow­ing was chal­lenged by a for­mer C.I.A. direc­tor, R. James Woolsey. “The specter of peo­ple get­ting high on indus­trial hemp,” Mr. Woolsey said, “is pretty much exactly like say­ing you can get drunk on O’Doul’s.” Hemp sup­port­ers say it is only a mat­ter of time before legal­iza­tion comes as peo­ple more fully under­stand the plant. They also point to states where vot­ers legal­ized recre­ational mar­i­juana in Novem­ber — Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton — as inevitably forc­ing a change in pri­or­i­ties in the Obama admin­is­tra­tion. “The demonology of hemp is exposed as being not valid,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive John Yarmuth, Demo­c­rat of Ken­tucky, a spon­sor of a bill in the House to allow hemp cul­ti­va­tion. He said the move­ment to accept hemp has the same inevitabil­ity that he attrib­uted to accep­tance of same-sex mar­riage. Still, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has been unyield­ing. Farm­ers in states that allow hemp must seek a waiver from the Drug Enforce­ment Admin­is­tra­tion or risk being raided by fed­eral agents and los­ing their farms. Dave Mon­son, a North Dakota wheat farmer and Repub­li­can state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, has held a state hemp license since 2007, when North Dakota legal­ized cul­ti­va­tion. But he has no plans to plant. “I applied for a D.E.A. license, never got one,” he said. A spokesman for the drug agency said it did not keep sta­tis­tics on per­mits to grow hemp, which it does not dis­tin­guish from mar­i­juana under the Con­trolled Sub­stance Act of 1970. Mr. Mon­son knows farm­ers just north of the Cana­dian bor­der who prof­itably grow hemp, and he argues that it can be an eco­nomic boon. “The more states that do what we have done in North Dakota, if we can keep the pres­sure on, I think we’re going to see some move­ment at the fed­eral level,” he said. Hemp sup­port­ers claim a total retail value of prod­ucts con­tain­ing hemp at more than $400 mil­lion in the United States. But a Con­gres­sional Research Ser­vice report last year found that imported hemp raw mate­ri­als was small, only $11.5 mil­lion. All hemp used in United States today — such as in Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps sold at Whole Foods — is imported, mostly from China. Rod­ney Brewer, the com­mis­sioner of the Ken­tucky State Police, said that if hemp farm­ing were legal, mar­i­juana grow­ers would hide their plants in hemp fields and the police could not tell them apart. “They are iden­ti­cal in appear­ance when it comes to the naked eye,” Mr. Brewer said, pre­dict­ing that legal­iz­ing hemp would cre­ate a boom for pot grow­ers. But Mr. Woolsey, who said he favored hemp because of “my inter­est in pros­per­ity for rural Amer­ica,” argued that no pot farmer would hide plants in a hemp field for fear that low-potency hemp would cross-pollinate with mar­i­juana and lower the con­cen­tra­tion of THC, its psy­choac­tive ingre­di­ent. Mar­i­juana grow­ers “hate the idea of hav­ing indus­trial hemp any­where near,” he said. The Ken­tucky bill faces resis­tance from some law­mak­ers, includ­ing the speaker of the State House. Mr. Paul, after call­ing atten­tion to his hemp shirt at the hear­ing in Frank­fort, seemed to roll his eyes when he said, “You’d think you’re at a D.E.A. hear­ing.” “This is a hear­ing about a crop,” he said. “It’s a crop that’s legal every­where else in the world except the United States.” Mr. Paul, elected in 2010 with Tea Party sup­port, promised to intro­duce a Sen­ate bill as a com­pan­ion to the pro-hemp bill in the House, which has 28 co-sponsors. He is fol­low­ing in the fam­ily foot­steps, since the first House bill allow­ing hemp was intro­duced sev­eral years ago by his father, Ron Paul, a for­mer Texas con­gress­man and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Ron Paul’s embrace of the issue fit his deep lib­er­tar­ian streak, which also at times embraced legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana and other drugs. Those posi­tions placed hemp far out­side the main­stream in many law­mak­ers’ minds, just as the image of its prod­ucts — soaps, san­dals and nat­ural foods sold at co-ops — placed it in a coun­ter­cul­ture. But no bet­ter sign exists that hemp’s image is chang­ing than its embrace by Mr. McConnell, the minor­ity leader, who said in a state­ment last month that his mind had been changed “after long dis­cus­sions” with Rand Paul and the Ken­tucky agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner, James Comer, a Repub­li­can. “The uti­liza­tion of hemp to pro­duce every­thing from cloth­ing to paper is real,” Mr. McConnell said. A ver­sion of this arti­cle appeared in print on Feb­ru­ary 13, 2013, on page A16 of the New York edi­tion with the head­line: Hemp Grow­ing Finds Allies of a New Stripe in Ken­tucky. Source: New York Times (NY) Author: Trip Gabriel Pub­lished: Feb­ru­ary 13, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 The New York Times Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​nytimes.​com Web­site: http://​www​.nytimes​.com/

 Hemp Growing Finds Allies in Kentucky

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Hemp Grow­ing Finds Allies in Kentucky

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