By Charles Mason, Bowling Green Daily News,
Possibly half of Kentucky’s nascent industrial hemp industry could be harmed by a policy suggestion offered by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack and other federal officials.
The policy suggestion is part of a larger discussion over the future of industrial hemp in America, which exists in legal limbo. States with legislation in place can allow it be grown under research conditions, but cannabis is still outlawed as a controlled substance.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said Thursday that Kentucky is the biggest industrial hemp state in the United States.
“We want Kentucky to be the epicenter for industrial hemp,” Quarles said during a telephone interview.
This set of paragraphs in a federal publication has created some concerns about the future viability of Kentucky’s program.
“The term ‘industrial hemp’ includes the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part or derivative of such plant, including seeds of such plant, whether growing or not, that is used exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed) with a tetrahydrocannabinols concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis,” according to the “Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp” released Aug. 12 in the Federal Register.
Under the parameters, the feds would redefine industrial hemp to include only “historically proven” applications – fiber and seed – excluding other potential applications. The statement from the feds – which is not legally binding – goes on to say that ‘‘tetrahydrocannabinols includes all isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers of tetrahydrocannabinols.”
The Federal Register statement also noted, “… 2014 legalized the growing and cultivating of industrial hemp for research purposes in states where such growth and cultivation is legal under state law, notwithstanding existing federal statutes that would otherwise criminalize such conduct.”
The language in the Federal Register also has a Louisville businessman concerned.
Chad Wilson of Bowling Green, who has a business in Louisville, admits it is early in the process of these national discussions. He sees the Kentucky family farmer and his or her crop options being endangered by the federal policy suggestion.
Wilson is the marketing director for Green Remedy of Louisville, which distributes natural remedies derived from non-industrial hemp applications.
“We created this Kentucky company to help the Kentucky farmer,” Wilson said Thursday during a telephone interview. “We have a right to a better quality of life.”
Kentucky permits 167 research plots for industrial hemp by growers not affiliated with an educational institution and the about 2,200 acres planted is expected to grow in the coming years. Kentucky’s research pilot program is in its third growing season. The program exists because the current Farm Bill offers an exemption to allow the research plots, Quarles said.
“We are trying to create stability for the investors. They are concerned about this policy paper,” Quarles said of the state’s industrial hemp program.
Quarles recently wrote Vilsack and other federal officials to express concerns about the federal government’s approach to narrow Congress’ definition of industrial hemp.
That approach excludes cannabidiol (CBD), which advocates claim has health benefits. Green Remedy’s products derive from CBD.
Quarles said more than half of the industrial hemp acreage cultivated this year by pilot program participants in Kentucky is being used to harvest CBD.
“Freedom, flexibility and latitude to try new methods and applications are essential to the success of any agricultural research pilot program. Industrial hemp research pilot programs are now different,” Quarles wrote Vilsack; Deputy Assistant Administrator Louis Milione of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency; and Associate Commissioner Leslie Kux of the federal Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 12.
The Federal Register statement noted that the USDA, DEA and FDA were still sorting out legalities of permitted industrial hemp programs authorized by states.
The statement wasn’t all potential bad news for Kentucky.
Quarles applauded the decision to allow hemp growers and processors to be eligible for federal loans, grants and other programs.
However, he took exception with the narrowed definition that would shut out non-industrial hemp product applications such as use of hemp parts as food ingredients, as materials for artistic use; or as ingredients for pharmaceutical, nutraceutical or other health-related purposes.
Quarles told the federal administrator that CBD shows “great promise” as an economically viable agricultural product.
“Kentucky’s General Assembly is one of many state legislatures that has expressed their support for continuing and expanding CBD applications and research,” Quarles wrote.
The CBD portion of the plant is the backbone of Wilson’s three-year-old company. Wilson said he used to look at cannabis in the narrow view of marijuana and people getting high, but through personal education about industrial hemp and its non-industrial medicinal applications, “they call me the hemp preacher now,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview.
Green Remedy has less than five employees and Wilson declines to cite specifically what his business is worth except to say that he’s made a “substantial investment” and contracted growers to provide the CBD his business uses.
“This is an opportunity for the middle class to step up and start a business,” Wilson said. “You don’t do something like this and then pull the rug out.”
Wilson and Quarles are both concerned that foreign hemp seed might transcend domestic efforts.
The Statement of Principles calls for prohibiting transfers of hemp seeds and plants across state lines, despite Congress’ “clear intent” to allow such interstate transfers, Quarles noted in the letter.
“I cannot understand why the importation rules should be more restrictive for interstate transfers than for international transfers,” Quarles wrote.