Tobacco farming is falling along with the decline in cigarette sales, but farmers in Kentucky are working for survival by switching their crops to hemp. It certainly isn’t an easy switch with the Drug Enforcement Agency fighting the farmers over the legality of growing hemp.
The confusion over growing hemp stems from the regulations in the Controlled Substance Act that bans production of all cannabis species including hemp. However, a lawsuit ruled against the DEA and the passage of a Farm Bill that allowed a pilot program for growing hemp in the state of Kentucky has given these farmers the confidence to move forward with planting crops.
The Hemp Business Journal estimated that there were $688 million in hemp sales in 2016. Of that, hemp derived cannabidiol or CBD accounted for 19% of the market and was number five in the list of uses for hemp. Hemp CBD is growing rapidly at a rate of 53% AGR.
Brian Furnish was one of the first farmers licensed to grow hemp in 2014. He started with two greenhouses and this year he was approved to plant 12,000 acres. “My history is in tobacco, but I’m trying to diversify away from tobacco.” He is an eighth-generation farm and he believes hemp will help him keep the farm. Furnish noted there has been almost a $10 million investment in Kentucky over the last two years for hemp farming.
Ananda Hemp helps to support Furnish by buying his crop. The company uses Kentucky hemp to create its Spectrum 200 and Spectrum 600 oil. The company believes that there are more benefits to its CBD oil because the plants are grown outdoors. The company recently endorsed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 that was introduced by Kentucky Congressman James Comer.
While the DEA and the current Department of Justice have been very vocal about their dislike of the cannabis industry, others in Washington have shown their support for the hemp farmers. Furnish noted that Kentucky Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given his support saying, “By exploring innovative ways to use hemp to benefit a variety of Kentucky industries, while avoiding negative impact to Kentucky law enforcement’s efforts at marijuana interdiction, the pilot programs authorized by this legislation could help boost our state’s economy.”
The bill currently has 16 co-sponsors including many from the normally anti-marijuana Republican party. Several marijuana friendly democrats like Earl Blumenhauer from Oregon, Steve Cohen from Tennessee and Ed Perlmutter from Colorado have all signed on. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has also pushed back on Sessions asking the AG to reassure hemp farmers that they will be left alone and be able to continue their banking relationships.
Eric Wang Chief Executive Officer of Ananda Hemp said, “It’s clear that it’s not marijuana, it’s hemp. The confusing part is that a lot of CBD companies say their product comes from the stalk and that’s physically impossible. That’s the challenge defining what’s legal hemp. We’re creating hemp products legally.” Wang pointed out that they compete with companies that claim to use hemp when its actually marijuana or grow hemp illegally. “It’s very messy and it isn’t easy doing it by the law,” he said.
Due to the growth of the use of CBD products and the early pilot program, Kentucky is enjoying a mini-hemp boom. Furnish said, “It’s exciting to be a part of an emerging industry and going back to our roots.” Hemp was farmed in the state before tobacco. “Hemp will be our crop of the future. It will be the new corn.”