Prior to the government shutdown, President Donald Trump signed into law the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 — commonly known as the farm bill — on Dec. 20 after House and Senate approval in early December.
The farm bill removes hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act and legalizes the production of industrial hemp, while providing hemp farmers access to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs.
“We passed one of my top Kentucky priorities for the year,” Senator Mitch McConnell wrote in an opinion piece in the Courier-Journal on Dec. 14.
McConnell, an opponent of marijuana legalization, has become a spokesman for hemp. Many people see this as McConnell’s desire to see hemp production as Kentucky’s new cash crop for his home state.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles issued a statement saying that he hoped the regulations for growing the plant, which also allows farmers to apply for crop insurance, would be approved quickly.
Local Kentucky Farm Bureau agent Gavin Roberts said that when the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) releases a product and it’s made available for farmers to purchase crop insurance, he will be the local contact for this insurance.
Quarles attended the presidential signing and said on his Facebook page that this was a “landmark day” for Kentucky.
“With this piece of legislation, Kentucky farmers can be assured that critical farm programs are protected and extended. The legalization of hemp is a great Christmas present for Kentucky Farmers as we seek to find alternative crops in today’s economy,” wrote Quarles.
Tobacco acreage has steadily fallen and burley tobacco production is down 18 percent since 2017, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Production of dark air-cured tobacco is down 7 percent from last year.
According to Clint Hardy, a Daviess County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, nearly 1,300 acres of burley tobacco, used for cigarettes, and nearly 500 acres of dark air cure tobacco, used for smokeless snuff product, are grown in Daviess County. This compares to 120,000 acres of corn and soybeans crops.
“Kentucky has a proven track record for favorable growing conditions for hemp, and there was no legitimate reason why our farmers shouldn’t be allowed to grow the crop and capitalize on this growing market,” McConnell wrote in his editorial. “Hemp is a versatile crop, and we continue to learn more about it every day. While we may not yet know its full capabilities, I am confident the ingenuity of Kentucky’s farmers and producers will find new and creative uses for this exciting crop.”
The bill does prohibit anyone convicted of a drug felony from working in the hemp industry for 10 years after the date of their conviction, a change from earlier drafts where persons convicted of drug felonies were prohibited entirely.
With the legalization of industrial hemp, the hemp-derived compound cannabidiol, CBD, is expected to grow as well. Touting unconfirmed therapeutic properties, CBD has been incorporated into many health and wellness products and is making its way into food and cocktail recipes. The Brightfield Group, a market research firm focused on the legal cannabis industry, estimates the US market for hemp-derived CBD be worth $591 million in 2018.
In a Dec. 19 Rolling Stone article, Bethany Gomez, director of research at the Brightfield Group said this was a “watershed moment” for CBD.
“With hemp and all of its derivatives officially removed from the controlled substances act, CBD moves from a legal gray area into the light … this shift will allow for CBD to make its way to the shelves of larger scale, mainstream distribution channels and pave the way for the large mainstream consumer packaged goods companies in industries like drinks, beauty, pet, skin care and tobacco to develop CBD products and capitalize on this emerging industry.”