In Conversation

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Industrial hemp advocates say they’re prepared for a new wave of prosperity for the crop in Kentucky following its legalization under the 2018 federal Farm Bill. Speaking on WFPL’s In Conversation, experts said they are still spreading awareness about the many uses of hemp, which was once a major cash crop in Kentucky.

Our guests were:

  • Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles
  • University of Louisville researcher Jagannadh Satyavolu
  • Kentucky Hemp Heritage Alliance Founder Alyssa Erickson

Unlike its relative, marijuana, industrial hemp has almost none of the psychoactive ingredient THC, the chemical that gives marijuana users a “high” feeling. Kentucky Hemp Heritage Alliance Founder Alyssa Erickson said people don’t associate hemp with marijuana as often as they used to. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from a list of controlled substances, where it was placed in 1970.

“From construction materials to car parts, door paneling…furniture even, upholstery, fiber — really, the possibilities are endless,” Erickson said. “The one thing you can’t do with it is smoke it and get high.”

Under federal regulations, hemp cannot contain more than .3 percent of THC. Although the Farm Bill effectively legalized the crop, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said there is still work to do. Quarles said he is spreading awareness about hemp to different organizations and states to ensure the crop is not overregulated or policed in Kentucky. He believes that the state is on “a trajectory to sell over $100 million of Kentucky grown, Kentucky processed, Kentucky Proud hemp products this year in America.”

“Kentucky continues to lead the way not only on production [and] processing, but also on policy-making,” Quarles said. “We have the heritage and culture that other states don’t.”

University of Louisville researcher Dr. Jagannadh Satyavolu and his team have been studying hemp. Satyavolu researches organic materials that  can be turned into fuel, and his department started growing hemp for research in 2016.

Satyavolu said hemp is easy to grow and offers opportunities for farmers and the state.

“Higher mileage cars means we ought to make lighter-weight materials, fibers are lighter weight materials,” Satyavolu said, explaining that such fibers can be extracted from hemp. “You have various materials you’re making available for the manufacturer so that they can make it into various products.”

Join us next week for In Conversation as guest host Ryland Barton talks about the state’s pension system.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.