Senator Rand Paul at press conference in Louisville
(Louisville, KY August 23, 2012) - Sen. Rand Paul joined state officials today to begin to bring back an old Kentucky crop that became a boogeyman for law enforcement. Industrial hemp, grown in the Commonwealth for several hundred years, is enjoying a resurgence of interest. Hemp’s souped version, marijuana, is a drug banned in Kentucky and many other states. The confusion of the two and the fear of marijuana usage has held development of hemp products back.
Senator Paul appeared at a press conference early this morning with Kentucky Senator Jody Pendleton and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to answer questions on why they have come to believe that (as the banner says) “Hemp Equals Jobs.” They also announced the twenty five year old Industrial Hemp Commission will be revived under the leadership of Comer. The Commission has been dormant for a long while. Chair former Representative Joe Barrows agreed to pass the chairmanship to Comer.
In a phone interview after the event, Paul was asked when his interest in industrial hemp began.
”I’ve always been supportive of it. But I didn’t do much about it.” He said. “I’ve known Katie Moyer of Hopkinsville area and she has worked hard to call attention to this issue.” Paul said that when James Comer began advocating hemp production, his interest was renewed and he became involved.
When asked what he would do to support the crop, Senator Paul said that he is co-sponsoring a bill in the Senate with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Washington to allow hemp to be grown in the U. S. A similar bill will be presented to the Kentucky General Assembly.
“Every industrialized country in the world except the US allows the growing of hemp.” The Senator noted. “Hemp is a huge source of paper and oil can be produced from seeds.”
A study of hemp produced in the late 1990s has proven to be still influential among decision makers like Paul and Comer. In July 1998, Dr. Eric C. Thompson, Dr. Mark C. Berger and Steven N. Allen, three researchers, at the Center for Business and Economic Research, published a paper on the “Economic Impact of Industrial Hemp in Kentucky.” Their summary stated “if just one fourth of Kentucky’s agricultural counties went into the industrial hemp business, approximately 17,348 jobs would be created and $396 million in worker earnings generated yearly.”
The good news for rural communities is that industrial hemp production must be localized. Because of its bulk, production needs to be decentralized. Jobs produced by products from hemp will benefit areas near the farmer. That means no shipping it far away to be processed as with other cash crops.
One of the tasks that will be first and foremost will be calming the concerns of law enforcement about hemp masking marijuana production. The Thompson, Berger, Allen study postulated that industrial hemp will overtake marijuana, diluting it to the point that THC, the drug portion of marijuana, will be gone.
Senator Paul said he initially expects only 100- 200 farmers to sign up to grow hemp. Law enforcement can use GPS coordinates to locate their farms, eliminating their use for illegal hemp. Paul said that he read that industrial hemp squeezes out marijuana, so growing the illegal drug around legal hemp will be a bad idea for pot growers.
The crop requires few herbicides, replenishes the soil, and is drought resistant. In rotation, according to the study, hemp helps increase yield in other row crops.
In this hyperpartisan and paranoid world of 2012, it remains to be seen if Paul, Wyden, Comer and Pendleton will be able build an effective coalition to bring a crop that sounds like the answer to many of rural Kentucky’s problems back into production. From the field to the factory right here at home will create jobs in rural areas desperate for industry.
Figures as stellar as Senator Henry Clay grew hemp. Henry Ford created a car of industrial hemp. The Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights were written on hemp paper.
Senator Paul showed off his hemp shirt at the press conference. He said on the phone that he liked the shirt and “it’s comfortable.”
The dream of industrial hemp supporters is to offer customers the chance to buy shirts grown locally, manufactured locally and sold locally.