Politics

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles immediately applied for federal approval of Kentucky’s hemp program after the 2018 farm bill was signed into law Thursday afternoon, effectively legalizing the crop.

The farm bill removes hemp from the federal list of controlled substances, allowing farmers to grow the plant and apply for crop insurance.

Quarles issued a statement saying that he hoped the regulations would be approved swiftly.

“Kentucky has led the charge on industrial hemp with bipartisan support for the past five years,” Quarles wrote. “Now we are eager to take the next step toward solidifying Kentucky’s position as the epicenter of industrial hemp production and processing in the United States.”

Hemp is closely related to cannabis, but doesn’t contain as much of the psychoactive ingredient THC. It was a major cash crop in Kentucky and used by the United States to make uniforms and rope during World War II, but its use was phased out as cannabis became increasingly criminalized over the course of the 20th century.

Under the new farm bill, states will be required to license and track hemp throughout its growth, processing and sale, including annual inspections to verify hemp producers aren’t exceeding THC limits.

States are also required to apply to the federal Department of Agriculture to approve their hemp regulations.

In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Commissioner Sonny Perdue, Quarles said that the new farm bill sets the stage for Kentucky’s fledgling hemp industry to expand rapidly.

“By removing hemp from the list of controlled substances, and directing USDA to make hemp growers eligible to participate in federal farm programs on an equal footing with other crops, the new Farm Bill has laid the groundwork for full-scale commercialization of this promising crop,” Quarles said.

Perdue has 60 days to approve or reject Kentucky’s proposal.

Hemp can be used to make a wide variety of products ranging from food and clothing to cannabidiol, a therapeutic oil derived from the plant.

Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, states have been allowed to approve hemp projects for limited research and development.

In 2018, Kentucky farmers grew more than 6,700 acres of hemp.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.