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Kentucky Moving Forward With Industrial Hemp Cultivation

United States Department of Agriculture

Republican Senator Rand Paul and Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer are playing a game of chicken with the federal government over the growing of industrial hemp in the state. A news release from the state agriculture department said staff members have been instructed to begin the process of writing rules for the development of the long-banned crop.

The state’s industrial hemp commission is calling for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Senator Rand Paul to write a letter to the U.S. Justice Department to “make Kentucky’s intentions known.”

The federal government has said it will respect state laws that legalize marijuana to various degrees. Comer and Paul want to know if that goes for states like Kentucky that have legalized marijuana’s cousin, industrial hemp. Hemp is meant for fiber and oil, and supporters say you could smoke a whole field of it and not get high. But federal law is unclear on this distinction.

Before the feds made the announcement about marijuana laws, Comer wrote to the Department of Justice asking to lift the hemp ban. The letter was cosigned by most of Kentucky's federal representatives, including Paul.

“Seven out of eight of our federal delegation, they never got a response from [the] DoJ. So we’re going to try Plan B. We’re just going to send them a letter saying  okay, this is what we’re going to do,” Comer said.  The letter will be signed by Senator Paul, and will tell the DoJ the state will move toward issuing permits to grow hemp, unless they are told otherwise.

Recent changes to state law have opened the door to future hemp production in Kentucky, although growing the crop is still technically illegal under federal law. But Commissioner Comer is pointing to recent statements by a Justice Department official who said the federal government has no intentions of prosecuting hemp farmers.

While critics have questioned how big a demand there is for U.S.-made hemp products, Comer says the crop could have a positive impact on the state’s economy in ten years.