The debate over whether or not to legalize industrial hemp in Kentucky has mostly centered on the crop’s benefits to agriculture, but its potential for energy production, both old and new, are what should dominating the discussion.
Patriot Bioenergy CEO Roger Ford says industrial hemp could add longevity to the coal industry, by acting as a blend fuel to lower sulfur emissions, while at the same time providing the state — and particularly Eastern Kentucky — with a path forward beyond coal. As such, hemp could serve mountain counties as both a stopgap and a salvation.
Ford paints a picture of coal companies growing hemp as a way to reclaim post-mining land, using the hemp fibers for a blend fuel and processing hemp oil into biodiesel. Such a scenario, even if it only partly became reality, seems too tempting to pass up.
However, House Speaker Greg Stumbo has thrown cold water on the hemp effort, saying he cannot support legalization without evidence that it will be a moneymaker. Stumbo says he is not convinced there is a market for hemp.
The Speaker might be right about that, but one thing is clear — there never will be a market for hemp, as long as it remains illegal. Voting to legalize it would at least give Kentucky farmers and energy producers the opportunity to test the waters.
If hemp proves to be more boondoggle than boon, then nothing is lost, save a little time to test the market. However, if Kentucky remains obstinate and refuses to legalize the crop, the state risks being behind the curve once again, in the event other states jump at the chance to establish the markets Stumbo says he wants to see first. Then, as usual, Kentucky can show up late to the party, with any chance to create a value-added industry around hemp lost to those who seized the moment when it was there to be had. The state would, once again, ship its raw materials off to other states, who would reap the enormous rewards that we squandered.
There simply is no good reason to continue to outlaw a plant that has only potential for economic development. However, if Stumbo wants evidence, we suggest he put his considerable political heft into obtaining it. It is, after all, better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
Surely, there is room for compromise. One alternative would be to amend the Senate bill to implement the legalization of hemp as a 10-year pilot project. That would give farmers and energy producers enough time to prove whether or not hemp can be a viable fixture in the state’s economy. If it is, lawmakers can make legalization permanent. It it isn’t, no one will fret if the pilot project is allowed to expire.
The few concerns that have been expressed about industrial hemp’s physical resemblance to marijuana are addressed in Senate Bill 50. The only other argument against it, as expressed by Stumbo, is that it might not have enough upside. That, quite frankly, is no reason to continue blocking any action that could give the Speaker the answers he claims he wants to see.
— The Floyd County Times