Kentucky’s Great Hemp Hope

Mike Lewis doesn’t want to talk about marijuana. He is an organic farmer, the son of a retired federal agent, and he follows the law.

“If you’re gonna talk about drugs, you’re going to have to leave my property,” he said to the group of entrepreneurs and activists who had traveled to central Kentucky to see his farm, one of the few legal, private hemp operations in the country. The threat sounded serious, and with it, Lewis had everyone’s attention. “We’re here today to talk about building an industry.”

The most progressive cannabis program in the United States won’t get anyone stoned. But while officials in Colorado and Washington state await the results (and reap millions in taxes) of their drug-legalization experiments, conservative Kentucky has launched an ambitious and industrious project devoted to the ancient, controversial plants. Marijuana remains illegal here, but with industrial hemp, a nonpsychoactive cannabis varietal with dozens of commercial uses, the state sees a different kind of salvation, an old-fashioned agrarian answer to a variety of 21st century American ills.

Seven university-affiliated grow sites in the state, spread from the Mississippi valley in the west to the Appalachian east, are researching hemp’s potentials. Eastern Kentucky University is studying biofuels. Manufacturers are talking up hemp-based car parts and hempcrete, a biodegradable construction material. Biochemical engineers in Louisville will test the plant’s capacity to remediate the city’s toxic dumps. In struggling Appalachia, where thousands of families were wiped out when the federal government ended its tobacco subsidies, small farmers are wondering whether hemp can fill an economic vacuum. Wherever Kentucky has a problem, it seems industrial hemp has an answer.

– Read the entire article at Al Jazeera America.

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