The Politics of Hemp Production in Kentucky


By: Vanessa Rogers, Staff Member

Much controversy has steamed from the production and cultivation of hemp in Kentucky.Proponents support hemp production by turning to Kentucky’s successful past in the industrial production of hemp. In the 1800s, when the production of hemp was legal, Kentucky accounted for half of the industrial hemp production in the United States.[1] Critics advocate against hemp production because hemp contains THC and could be used as a recreational drug.[2] The issue of hemp has been introduced on several occasions to the Kentucky Legislature.[3]

Just this year Senate Bill 30 was introduced in Kentucky. The bill proposed to define industrial hemp and THC in a way so as to exclude industrial hemp production from the definition of marijuana, thereby making its industrial production legal. In addition, the bill gave the Department of Agriculture the authority to regulate and oversee hemp production. Such provisions would have required the Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp producers. The Sheriff would have been required to monitor and randomly test industrial hemp fields. Licensees were to provide the Department of Agriculture with names and addresses of any grower or buyer of industrial hemp, and copies of any contracts the licensee may have entered into relating to industrial hemp.[4] Senate Bill 30, like many other similar bills introduced in the Kentucky Legislature, did not become law. It was introduced to the Senate and then referred to the Agriculture committee where it died.[5]

The question then becomes, why do bills like Senate Bill 30 die before becoming law? One of the reasons may be due to federal efforts to reduce the cultivation of marijuana.[6] Hemp and marijuana physically look similar[7]thereby making it harder for law enforcement to distinguish between the cultivation of hemp and the cultivation of marijuana. It is not an easy political move for a representative to open the door to hemp as long as the issue of marijuana exists in society.[8] In fact, the United States Congress “has displayed much more interest in eradicating anything that resembles drugs than in drawing lines between legitimate and illegitimate substances.”[9] Thus it may be a political faux pas to challenge the federal government’s strong belief in this. For now, any production of hemp is illegal in the state. If another hemp bill is introduced in the Kentucky Legislature, it is likely that it too will fail like numerous other Kentucky bills.

[1] Economic Impact of Industrial Hemp in Kentucky, By Dr. Eric C. Thompson, Dr. Mark C. Berger & Steven N. Allen, Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky, (July 1998), http://www.votehemp.com/PDF/hempstudy.pdf.

[2] Susan D. Dwyer, The Hemp Controversy: Can Industrial Hemp Save Kentucky?, 86 Ky. L.J. 1143,1168-69 (1998).

[3] S.B. 30, 2011 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2011); S.B. 14, 2010 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2010); S.B. 131, 2009 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2009); H.B. 100, 2001 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2001); H.B. 855, 2000 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2000).

[4] S.B. 30, 2011 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2011).

[5] Id.

[6] Thompson, supra note 1,

[7] Syzygyastro, Hemp and Marijuana, Hubs.com,http://syzygyastro.hubpages.com/hub/hemp-and-marijuana, (Last visited Oct. 2, 2011).

[8] Dwyer, supra note 2, at 1169.

[9] Id.