Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa that is different than marijuana by its use and chemical makeup. Industrial hemp refers to cannabis varieties that are primarily grown as an agricultural crop little to no drug component.
Kentucky's first hemp crop was grown in 1775, and Kentucky went on to become the nation's leading hemp-producing state in the mid-19th century with peak production of 40,000 tons in 1850. U.S. hemp production declined after the Civil War, and almost all of the nation's hemp was grown in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Federal legislation passed in 1938 outlawed production of cannabis, including hemp, in the U.S. Hemp production in Kentucky and the U.S. ramped up during World War II as part of the war effort but fell again after the war and ended with the demise of a small hemp fiber industry in Wisconsin in 1958.
Industrial hemp products, production, and markets
Some estimate that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products, including:
- fabrics and textiles
- yarns and raw or processed spun fibers
- home furnishings
- construction and insulation materials
- auto parts
- animal bedding
- foods and beverages
- body care products
- nutritional supplements
- industrial oils
- personal care
An estimated 55,700 metric tons of industrial hemp are produced around the world each year. China, Russia, and South Korea are the leading hemp-producing nations. They account for 70 percent of the world's industrial hemp supply.
Canada had 38,828 licensed acres of industrial hemp in 2011. Canadian exports of hemp seed and hemp products were estimated at more than $10 million, with most going to the U.S.
Because there is no commercial industrial hemp production in the United States, the U.S. market is largely dependent on imports, both as finished hemp-containing products and as ingredients for use in further processing. More than 30 nations grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not allow industrial hemp production. Current industry estimates report that U.S. retail sales of all hemp-based products may exceed $300 million per year
U.S. law governing hemp
Under the current U.S. drug policy, all cannabis varieties, including hemp, are considered Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA, 21 U.S.C. §§801 et seq.; Title 21 CFR Part 1308.11). Hemp production is controlled and regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It is illegal to grow hemp without a DEA permit. Cannabis varieties may be legitimately grown for research purposes only.
Several states have legalized the cultivation and research of industrial hemp, including Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. However, a grower still must get permission from the DEA in order to grow hemp, or face the possibility of federal charges or property confiscation, even if he or she has a state-issued permit.
Legislation filed in both houses of Congress would exclude hemp from the legal definition of marijuana. House Resolution 525 is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and has 39 co-sponsors, including Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Senate Bill 359 is sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and has four co-sponsors, including Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
This article was contributed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.