Hemp History in Kentucky and Clark County
The first known hemp crop in Kentucky was grown near Danville on Clarks Run Creek in 1775. The earliest mention of hemp in Clark County was by William Clinkenbeard, who claimed to be growing hemp at Strode’s Station as early as 1780.
During this time, hemp was being grown for fiber near settlements to make homespun twine, thread, rope, and textiles. Because hemp is not native to Kentucky, and had to be brought from New England or European countries, it wasn’t always easy to acquire the seed. Despite this, Kentucky hemp production was able to thrive and continued being the nation’s leading hemp producing states into the mid-19th century. Kentucky reached its peak hemp production at 40,000 tons worth $5 million in the 1850s. Clark County, specifically, was critical for shipping and storing hemp and hempen goods, and in the late 1800s, Clark County was one of ten Kentucky counties that produced over 90 percent of the entire country’s hemp yield. However, shortly thereafter, the hemp industry quickly started declining until all hemp production in America came to a halt in the 1850s, due to the Civil War.
The hemp industry was briefly revived during World War I when foreign sources were cut off. However, after the war, the U.S regained access to cheaper, imported goods and the hemp industry, again took a major hit. It wasn’t until 1942 when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the “Hemp For Victory” campaign that the hemp industry really started making a comeback. The campaign encouraged the American farmers to grow hemp for the war, promising government contracts and incentives. The promises were not met and many farmers found themselves without payment and by 1944, only 23 Kentucky farmers had received licenses to grow hemp. In 1945, hemp production had ceased across the state and country, and in 1970, hemp was federally banned under cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, and stayed that way for decades.
Modern History of Hemp
It wasn’t until the late 20th century that people began advocating for the return of hemp. Kentucky passed Senate Bill 50 which set the legal framework for hemp growth should the federal government legalize production in 2012. Then in 2014, the Farm Bill allowed universities and state departments of agriculture to start growing hemp for research and development purposes. The Hemp Farming Act, included in the 2018 Farm Bill, successfully removed hemp (containing less than 0.3% THC) from the list of controlled substances. The KY HB 236 aligned the Kentucky hemp program with the federal law under the 2018 Farm Bill. It was signed by Governor Beshear into law on February 10, 2020.
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