Hemp leaf

Kentucky Representative (and former agriculture commissioner) James Comer introduced new legislation (H.R. 3530) to reduce the burden of regulations and statutes applicable to industrial hemp, an industry which is growing by leaps and bounds in Kentucky.

Currently, the statute allows “pilot projects” and “research,” but the industry needs more clarity and certainty to encourage investment and growth. Potential industrial uses include lighter, stronger fibers for composite materials and plywood, as well as textiles, and the constituent chemicals and oils for medical, food, and cosmetic applications. The new act facilitates commercialization by taking the important step of removing industrial hemp containing 0.3% or less of the psychoactive ingredient THC from the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of “marihuana.” Additionally, the bill would allow research into hemp with as much as 0.6% THC, still far below psychoactive levels.

The new legislation is not without critics however. Some believe that industrial hemp should be removed from the enforcement jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2014, the DEA confiscated the first international shipment of hemp seed to Kentucky, resulting in court action. That case was settled, but without firm written rules, and some uncertainty about DEA’s enforcement intentions remains. And the bill continues unnecessary reporting of hemp crop locations to federal authorities.

Another concern is whether the bill unintentionally opens cannabidiol (“CBD”) processors to enforcement risk, as they may produce higher-than-permitted concentrations of THC as a temporary byproduct of CBD production. Although research is ongoing, some claim that CBD has many health benefits, including relieving pain, reducing anxiety, and treating arthritis. Critics hope that their concerns will be addressed by amendment.

Sponsors are optimistic that some form of the bill will be enacted by the end of the year.