After DEA approves hemp seed import, Kentucky plants a landmark crop

The week after a quick legal battle came to an end, Kentucky researchers sank hemp seeds into the earth and began an anxious wait for green sprouts to surface as part of the state’s first legal crop of cannabis since the World War II era.

The state-sponsored planting of hemp Tuesday at a University of Kentucky farm was the second of seven expected to take place before the end of the month.

Authorities sharply curtailed hemp growing in the U.S. in the 1930s because cannabis plants produce both the flower referred to as marijuana and the fibers known as hemp. While the flower secrets a chemical compound that produces an intoxicating high, the seeds and stalk do not. Still, until February, the ability to legally cultivate hemp was limited.

A new federal law now allows for states to run pilot projects aimed at figuring out how much profit there is in growing hemp, which can be used to make food, fuel or material.

The Kentucky ceremony marked the first planting in the U.S. of imported industrial hemp seed as part of the new program. This month, Kentucky’s Murray State University planted seeds bought from California.


The 13 varieties of seeds imported from Italy that were planted Tuesday had been at the center of a skirmish involving the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The agency refused to OK the import, citing conflicting laws. After Kentucky sued, the two sides agreed to a compromise with the help of a federal judge.

Kentucky secured a drug-importer permit, but it won’t have to spend thousands of dollars putting in place extra security measures at the farms.

Holly VonLuehrte, chief of staff for the state agriculture commissioner, called it an unusual and reasonable arrangement.

“Our permit application was expedited, and none of our producers are adhering to the normal requirements like the razor-wire fences,” she told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “What used to be unduly burdensome restrictions have been eliminated because of the new law.”

The seven plots of hemp will be harvested in the fall, assuming they grow. Researchers plan to investigate which varieties grow best and what conditions -- such as soil type and fertilizer -- work well.

“We certainly hope it’ll be able to grow,” VonLuehrte said.

The cannabis plants grown at the universities would be destroyed. Private farms working with the state would have the option to sell the fibers and seeds to see how much they can fetch.

Kentucky was once the country’s leading producer of hemp, making about 40,000 tons a year just before the Civil War. State officials have said they hope hemp farming and processing can reinvigorate the state’s economy.

“The University of Kentucky’s pilot program will help us recover much of the knowledge about industrial hemp production that has been lost since hemp was last grown in Kentucky,” state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in a statement. “With their help, we will bring industrial hemp back to Kentucky and with it new jobs and new farm income.”