Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:08 PM PDT
Industrial hemp has backers in state legislator
By Stephen Lega
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Senator Joey Pendleton
Terry Mills normally asks questions during meetings of the Kentucky House of Representatives Agriculture Committee, but recently, he found himself on the other side of the table, answering questions about legalizing industrial hemp.
Mills and State Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, have introduced similar legislation in their respective houses in the hopes of making industrial hemp a legal cash crop again across the Bluegrass State.
“It’s not to promote marijuana,” Mills stressed in his comments to the committee.
However, industrial hemp has been illegal to grow because it has been tied to its cousin in the plant kingdom.
Pendleton said hemp was used to make rope during the World Wars. After those wars, it faced competition from nylon rope makers, and the DuPont family was involved in producing nylon rope.
“They had enough clout at that time to get it declared illegal,” Pendleton said.
Pendleton believes hemp could provide a boost to the Kentucky economy, but first, farmers have to be allowed to grow it.
“For once, I want Kentucky to be proactive instead of reactive,” he said.
This isn’t a new issue for Pendleton. He said this year is the fourth time he has introduced legislation to allow industrial hemp to be grown in Kentucky.
He admits that the bill likely won’t be passed this year, but he is seeing more support for it on both sides of the aisle and across the state.
“It’s overwhelming the difference between this year and last year,” he said.
Industrial hemp remains one of the most versatile plants in the world. It can be used to make a wide variety of products.
In addition to rope, hemp has been used to make paper for centuries. It’s fibers can be used to make clothing and paper. Its seeds and oil are used in manufacturing beauty products.
It’s also a good source of biodiesel and ethanol, according to Pendleton.
“It will make twice the ethanol per acre as corn will,” he said.
This would also help address two issues. Pendleton said one of the concerns about using corn in alternative fuel is the effect that has on food prices by driving up the demand for corn. It could also help address the ongoing concern of the United States dependance on foreign oil for fuel.
Mills said two-thirds of the people in his district who responded to a survey said they supported industrial hemp as an agricultural product. As Kentucky farmers have lost revenue from tobacco, this could help replace some of that income.
“We need to educate the public all over the state about it,” Mills said.
Pendleton has been doing what he can to do just that, giving presentations about industrial hemp across the state.
“Every time I do one, we have people that want us to do it somewhere else,” he said.
He’s even planning to bring his presentation to Marion County in the near future, although a date has not yet been set.
A big part of the effort to educate the public is explaining the difference between hemp and marijuana. The marijuana plant is more bushy because growers want the leaves, according to Pendleton, while industrial hemp is a taller, more fibrous plant.
“To me, it’s like telling the difference between Johnson grass and corn,” he said.
He’s hopeful that with more education, the bill will have a good chance of becoming law in 2013.
“We’re sitting on a gold mine here,” Pendleton said.