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Would you grow hemp?

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  • A farmer I’ve known forever asked me, jokingly, “What’s this about the farm bill legalizing growing pot?”

“What’s this about the farm bill legalizing growing pot?” That’s what a Georgia farmer I’ve known forever really asked me, jokingly, as we shot the stuff waiting for a farmer meeting to start earlier this year. He likes to mess with me.

He was flippantly referring to language in the new farm bill that eases federal enforcement of laws relating to industrial Hemp. The farm bill language doesn’t do anything to tame pot, or marijuana, law enforcement. He knew this, but his question was as good a conversation starter as any. But I’ll get back to him later.

Hemp, if you don’t know, is pot’s more utilitarian cousin and has a long history of being cultivated and processed into useful products. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, industrial hemp refers to many types of Cannabis plants that contain “low levels” of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the stuff that gets you high. It can be used to make a variety of products from clothes to plastics (I have a hat made from hemp. Hemp came from Canada. It’s tough as nails but not as soft as cotton).

The Federal Controlled Substances Act says any product that contains THC, including industrial hemp, is a Schedule I drug, its highest and most restrictive level.

But the language about hemp in the farm bill pretty much says the federal government, which outlawed hemp growing along with its more infamous cousin soon after World War II, will not mess with states where hemp laws are less stringent. Again, according to the NCSL, nine states have laws to promote the growth and marketing of industrial hemp: Colorado, Oregon, California, Kentucky, Vermont, Montana, West Virginia, North Dakota and Maine.

As a side note, six of those nine states have laws that ease the sale of marijuana, too, either for medical or recreational use, or both. Twenty states in all now have such marijuana laws.

In Kentucky, policymakers have pushed hard for several years at the state and federal level to get hemp research and development started. Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the U.S. Senate Republican leader, was the spearhead to get language in the final version of the farm bill to allow state departments of agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp in pilot programs but only in states that already allow cultivation of industrial hemp. This gives Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a staunch supporter of industrial hemp in his state, the flexibility to grow hemp for pilot programs in Kentucky.

I asked the farmer, who by the way is really good at what he does, if he’d consider growing hemp (of course, growing hemp in Georgia is still illegal and there is no talk of that changing). This is where he got a bit serious in the conversation. “Yeah, I’d consider it. But the market would have to be there, I’d think, to take the acres I got in other things away or for me to invest in producing it. … As long as it was put to legal use, I guess.”

I then asked him, trying to get a reaction, if he’d consider growing pot. Without blinking, he smiled and said, “What makes you think I don’t already?”

He got a good laugh out of me on that one. I knew he was joking. … Heck, I guess he was joking.

“You know I’m going to have to write about this conversation we just had, right?” I said, messing with him.

He said he knew. “But don’t use my name. I got enough folks after me as it is.”

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