My Old Kentucky Hemp

By Elizabeth Feldpausch

For years Kentucky has been known as one of the leading producers of tobacco, but as trends have begun to change, the demand for tobacco has slowly begun to decrease. In 1964, a discovery was made showing tobacco caused lung cancer.[i] Ever since this discovery, the tobacco industry has been gradually shrinking, forcing many Kentucky farmers to either switch to growing other crops, or completely shut down farming production.[ii]

Seeking alternatives, Kentucky farmers are now eager to take advantage of a growing market for industrial hemp. Hemp, if legalized in Kentucky, could significantly boost the economy by providing Kentucky farmers with access to a growing number of industries served by this versatile crop. Hemp production is less labor intensive than tobacco production,[iii] and since the demand for hemp has significantly increased over time, Kentucky could capitalize on the hemp industry if it became one of the first states to legalize hemp production, thus providing Kentucky farmers with a first-mover advantage for growth and export of this crop in the U.S.[iv]

Kentucky was the leading hemp producing state before the crop was outlawed in 1938.[v] Hemp grows well in Kentucky’s climate, which is what led to the state being such a huge producer.[vi] If the farming and production of industrial hemp were to be legal again, allowing for a replacement of tobacco production, the Kentucky economy would likely receive a significant boost in farm employment opportunities, upstream and downstream prospects for entrepreneurship, and workers earnings.[vii] A study at the University of Kentucky found that Kentucky could also benefit from this industry because hemp could provide affordable animal bedding for the horse industry; appropriate soil and long growing seasons allow for profitability; and lastly, if Kentucky is one of the first states to legalize, the state could establish its place in the hemp industry, allowing for an advantage over other states.[viii] When looking at the many advantages of hemp production in Kentucky, it’s hard to argue that a vote to legalize is not the best thing for the state.

For those legislators who are against legalization of industrial hemp, one of the biggest concerns is that law enforcement would be unable to identify the difference between hemp and marijuana by the naked eye, and that it would be almost impossible to go through a field of hemp and distinguish a marijuana plant from the others.[ix] Another growing concern is the cross pollination of marijuana and hemp plants.[x]  However, studies have shown that the cross pollination of the two plants would actually be more disastrous to marijuana plants than hemp plants, because the cross would lower tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”, the chemical that causes the high when using marijuana) levels in the marijuana plants, while only slightly increasing that of hemp.[xi]

Mr. James Comer, the former Kentucky Agriculture Administrator believes that, hemp should never have been outlawed in Kentucky, and if legalized again, the profit per acre of hemp would be significantly greater than that of tobacco.[xii]  In order to capitalize on this tremendous opportunity, Kentucky should put industrial hemp production on the ballot next election cycle. It’s now time to let the bluegrass state do what it does best and grown this crop for its many beneficial uses.


[i] Tobaccointrouble, Kentucky Tobacco Farmer Crisis, (Dec. 8, 2011),

[ii] Id.

[iii] Nick Schrager, Local Farmers Growing Hemp for the First Time, The Springfield Sun (Sept. 21, 2016),

[iv] Eric. C. Thompson, Mark C. Berger, & Steven N. Allen, Economic Impact of Industrial Hemp in Kentucky, Center for Business and Economic Research University of Kentucky 1, 2 (1998),

[v] History of Hemp in Kentucky, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, (last visited Oct. 10, 2016).

[vi] Thompson et al., supra note iv, at 54.

[vii] Id. at 48.

[viii] Id. at i.

[ix] Why Kentucky Farmers are Quitting Tobacco and Turning to an Unlikely New Crop, PBS NEWSHOUR (Oct. 17, 2015),

[x] Joy Beckerman, Myths & Realities of Cross- Pollination, U.S. Marijuana Party of Kentucky (Apr. 8, 2015),

[xi] Id.

[xii]Why Kentucky Farmers are Quitting Tobacco and Turning to an Unlikely New Crop, supra note ix.