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After Legalization, Hemp Still Facing Obstacles

Lisa Autry

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says hemp is still facing an unfair stigma. 

Kentucky’s biggest impediment to full-scale commercialization of hemp was removed by the 2018 Farm Bill that passed Congress late last year.  The legislation de-classified the crop as a controlled substance and legalized industrial hemp.

Speaking in Bowling Green on Thursday, Quarles said hemp is being discriminated against on social media platforms, particularly Facebook, which has removed some hemp-related pages.

“One of them was as benign as an educational page to try to explain what hemp is," stated Quarles. "Others are using Facebook to sell their products, which is great, and it seems like Facebook has arbitrarily shut down some pages and not others.”

Commissioner Quarles says he reached out to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for an explanation in December and hasn’t received a response. 

Hemp advocates are still fighting for parity with other crops in the banking industry, as well.   Quarles says some banks are hesitant to do business with hemp producers out of fear of running afoul with regulations in the banking industry. 

Commissioner Quarles says hemp farmers also looking for equal treatment by chemical companies.  No pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides that are labeled for legal use on industrial hemp while other countries have the products.  Quarles plans to discuss the matter with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler who is scheduled to visit Kentucky in April.

Speaking at the Kentucky Hemp Industries Association Conference, Quarles addressed producers from all over the state who are hopeful that hemp has opened a new door for struggling tobacco farmers.  He called 2018 a breakout year for industrial hemp production and predicted this year would be even stronger with 42,000 approved acres, 1,035 approved growers, and 120 licensed processors.

While the commonwealth still faces some hurdles, Quarles said the 2018 Farm Bill took steps to make hemp equal to other commodities by making it eligible for crop insurance and by making hemp-related businesses eligible for state tax incentives just as other companies.

Kentucky was the first state to apply for federal approval of its hemp program following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.  The commonwealth is eager to resurrect what used to be a major cash crop until it became criminalized because of its close relation to marijuana.  Hemp doesn’t contain as much of the psychoactive ingredient THC.  States must adopt regulations approved by the federal government to ensure hemp producers aren't exceeding THC limits.

Hemp can be used to make a wide range of products clothing to cannabidiol, an oil derived from the plant that can be used as a health care supplement.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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