Kentucky has finally received its hemp seeds.
The Drug Enforcement Administration approved a permit on Thursday authorizing Kentucky to import the seeds for pilot projects across the state to study the potential of industrial hemp production. Local officials in Kentucky told the Associated Press that 286 pounds of seeds were delivered to the state today. The weight of the shipment was greater than the 250 pounds that had earlier been reported.
The seeds, which were shipped from Italy, included 13 varieties. Kentucky’s hemp coordinator, Adam Watson, said that the state’s research projects would “evaluate how these varieties perform” and determine the best method for growing hemp.
“This is a historic day,” Kentucky agriculture commissioner James Comer said yesterday when the state received its permit. “We've done something that no one thought we could do a year-and-a-half ago. We legalized industrial hemp and we've proven that it's an agricultural crop and not a drug.”
US Customs officials had seized the shipment of seeds when they arrived in Louisville. Kentucky responded by filing a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, the DEA, US Customs and Border Protection, and Attorney General Eric Holder in order to prompt the federal surrender of the seeds before the planting window closes on June 1.
Growing hemp has been illegal in the US for decades because the plant is a variety of cannabis, which federal authorities consider a dangerous substance with a high potential for abuse. Cannabis in general can technically be considered “hemp,” but the term is typically reserved for varieties distinguished by a negligible amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis known as THC that makes people like it so much.
The rest of the world has no difficulty producing hemp. China, South Korea, and Russia produce 70 percent of the world’s supply.
Hemp is cultivated primarily for the strong fiber of its stems, which can be used to create things like fabric, rope, and paper. Its cellulose can be turned into biodegradable plastic. Milled hemp seed has lately emerged as a health food, and the plant’s oil can be used to produce biodiesel fuel. Its versatile fibers can be compressed into durable building materials like insulation, wallboard, flooring, roofing tiles, and paneling. In fact, the plant’s bewildering range of industrial applications seems limited only by the imagination.
A recent federal farm bill granted states permission to cultivate test plots of hemp for research purposes — which is exactly what Kentucky is trying to do. Twelve other states also have laws that provide for hemp production as authorized by the farm bill.
Republican Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul fought for the provision that authorizes the growing of hemp. Their state, whose first recorded hemp crop was planted in 1775, once had a thriving hemp industry. It was a dominant producer of the crop throughout the 19th Century, and its enterprise did particularly well during the Spanish-American War and the two World Wars. Hemp was poised to become America’s first billion-dollar crop when an unfortunate smear campaign against Cannabis led to its wholesale criminalization.
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