Is Hemp the New Tobacco in Kentucky?

By: Hayley Abbott

Kentucky has long thrived in the bourbon, thoroughbred, and tobacco industries. However, a new industry is providing hope to save the state’s struggling economy.[i]Due to staple crops like tobacco declining in sales, farmers are focusing their efforts on another crop familiar to the state: hemp.[ii]The Tobacco Transition Program, launched by the federal government in 2004, sought to move farmers away from tobacco via buyouts and reduced subsidies.[iii]The program left farmers looking for new ways to make a living.[iv]With the removal of hemp from the Controlled Substances Act in the 2018 Farm Bill, farming the plant for CBD “oil, fiber, and dietary supplements” is now legal.[v]

Many view hemp as the way forward for Kentucky’s farmers.[vi]Kentucky’s hemp industry has already contributed to the economic success of the state.[vii]Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles stated that hemp brought in “nearly $58 million in gross product sales in 2018, more than double the sales in 2017.”[viii]In addition, hemp provided almost 500 jobs.[ix]Max Hammond, the Chief Executive Officer of A-1 Implements and a Kentucky farmer, views hemp as a source of hope for Appalachia.[x]Hammond encourages farmers to invest in hemp.[xi]

Kentucky defines “industrial hemp” as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than three-tenths of one percent (0.3%) on a dry weight basis.[xii]Many credit their improved well-being to the use of CBD products.[xiii]CBD has been shown to control pain in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and arthritis.[xiv]Despite testimony regarding the benefits from hemp, there are many questions that remain.[xv]

Historical Hemp .jpg

Although some farmers have experienced success, others have cautioned that there are downsides to hemp.[xvi]It’s difficult to predict whether hemp will be as successful as tobacco once was.[xvii]Hemp requires more time and skill than most crops because it must be harvested by hand.[xviii]Further, many point out that hemp is established in China.[xix]Foreign producers already in the hemp industry may lead to competition in prices for hemp products.[xx]

Hemp’s association with illegal drugs, like marijuana, is likely the greatest prevention of hemp’s success.[xxi]Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is largely associated with marijuana, is also a psychoactive compound in hemp.[xxii]However, to be legal, the THC in hemp cannot exceed 0.3 percent concentration which is difficult to test without national standards, causing additional problems.[xxiii]

Despite the known risks, many believe that the projected benefits associated with hemp outweigh the costs.[xxiv]Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles states that “industrial hemp is promising and is the fastest area of growth in Kentucky agriculture.”[xxv]Currently, the state of Kentucky is in the top five in terms of the farming and production of hemp.[xxvi]Hemp has also already proven to be much more profitable than staple crops and still has room for improvement.[xxvii]Thus, many farmers are taking their chances with hemp in hopes that this ends the reign of tobacco and begins a new era.[xxviii]

[i]Becca Schimmel, New Report Shows Kentucky’s Economic Performance Falls Short, WKMS, Dec. 10, 2018,

[ii]Katey Cook, Farmers: Kentucky’s hemp industry could revitalize Eastern Kentucky, WYMT, Aug. 25, 2019,

[iii]Kurtis Lee, Must Reads: As tobacco sales dry up, Kentucky farmers look to the state’s ‘original crop’ – hemp,  Los Angeles Times, Feb. 12, 2019,


[v]Ellyn Ferguson, ‘Enter hemp with extreme caution.’ Kentucky farmer tells Senate panel, Roll Call, July 26, 2019,

[vi]Cook, supranote 2. 






[xii]Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann.§ 260.850 (West 2019).

[xiii]Laurel Deppen, Is CBD oil legal? Here’s everything you need to know about CBD oil in Kentucky, Louisville Courier Journal, May 28, 2019,



[xvi]Ferguson, supranote 5.

[xvii]Austyn Gaffney, Kentucky farmers gamble on the South’s first organic hemp cooperative, Southerly,March 13, 2019,

[xviii]Damian Farris, Hemp can be lucrative, but there are drawbacks, Sterling Journal-Advocate,Feb. 27, 2018,




[xxii]Sophie Quinton, Hemp, on the Brink of Being Legal, Still Faces Challenges, Stateline Article, Sept. 26, 2018,


[xxiv]April Simpson, Farmers Hope for Hemp Riches Despite Risks, Stateline Article, Feb. 27, 2019,

[xxv]Jeff Daniels, Mitch McConnell pushed for hemp legalization. Now Kentucky farmers are tripling down on the crop, CNBC, March 28, 2019,