The Bluegrass State is famous for a number of things. Horse racing, bourbon, tobacco and, of course, the grass (and music) from which it’s nickname is derived. Soon, the state hopes to add hemp cultivation to that list.

Like many regions in the United States, hemp farming in Kentucky is hardly new, having been a driving factor of the 19th century state economy. (link to history of hemp in USA) However, when the federal government’s early 20th century crusade against cannabis caught the plants non-psychoactive strain in the crossfire, Kentucky hemp farmers, like others across the nation, were forced to put hemp aside.

Now, over a half century later, they have been given an opportunity to pick up where they left off.

With the passing of the agricultural Act of 2014 (, commonly referred to as the ‘Farm Bill’, large scale hemp cultivation was once again allowed in the United States. Though 28 states now allow some type of cultivation, only three have planted more than 100 acres of hemp: Colorado, Tennessee and Kentucky. (

While Colorado is quickly establishing itself as a hot spot for all things cannabis, the motivations for Kentucky (as well as Tennessee, West Virginia and others who are ramping up production) is primarily economic in nature. As you are likely aware, many of the Appalachian states are dealing with an increasingly crippled economy, due to the demise of traditional industry. In Kentucky’s case, this is due to the diminishing role that tobacco farming and coal mining play in the American economy. With the Farm Act, a number of Kentuckian politicians, farmers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers hope that hemp can one day replace these industries, as both a job source and a revenue stream. (

Kentucky hemp production was spearheaded by former state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer back in 2014. Though growth started small (only 20 farmers/33 acres) by 2015 cultivation had grown exponentially. By 2015, there were 121 growers approved by the state, including universities and collective projects, and hemp cultivation approached 2000 acres. This helped spur investment from out of state, including a number of medicinal CBD companies who set up shop in Kentucky, or plan to do so in the near future. (

With their investment, jobs have been created, jobs are going to be created, and they’ve signed contracts with family farmers,” Comer said last year. “Hemp equals jobs and true economic growth, which is what we predicted when we launched Senate Bill 50 two years ago.”  (

Although Comer ran for governor and ultimately lost, the man that beat him, Republican Ryan Quarles, is no less of a hemp advocate.

“Hemp is a bridge from Kentucky’s past to our future,” said Quarles. “The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and our partners are committed to building upon the solid foundation of research for a Kentucky hemp industry that will create jobs and new marketing opportunities.”

It’s not just the economy that is feeling the positive effects. The number of university led hemp research projects in the state has more than doubled in the past year, with researchers looking into production methods as well as the creation of new consumer products.

It’s been a long wait, but it appears like, in Kentucky at least, the United States is finally coming around to see the immense value of industrial hemp.

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AUTHOR: Matt Kyska
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