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AS WE SEE IT: It’s time to change our stance on cannabis plants

The cannabis plant has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance over the last few years, and not just in states that have legalized marijuana consumption for medicinal or recreational use. With changes to laws at the federal level that allowed the cultivation of any hemp plant with less than 0.3% THC – the psychoactive substance in cannabis that gets users high – the business in CBD and other hemp extracts boomed. CBD has been touted as a panacea of sorts, good for everything from relaxation and sleeplessness to pain relief, without the intoxicating buzz of its marijuana cousin. Hemp oil is used in foods, soaps, cosmetics, and various other products. You can even buy roasted hemp seeds, a kind of culinary cross between sesame seeds and piñons with a soft, crumbly, waxy texture.

Even in states where the use of marijuana still wasn’t legal, the benign nature of CBD and other hemp products meant they were facing no statutory hurdles and were leading to big business for states with the right conditions for growing hemp. This includes states like Kentucky. 

Though the number of hemp producers leveled off and dropped slightly in 2020, the state has seen steady growth in the hemp industry in recent years. According to Kentucky data reported in Hemp Grower magazine, the state’s processors reported paying out $7.5 million to farmers for harvested material in 2017, $17.75 million in 2018, and $51.3 million in 2019. Gross product sales for 2019 totaled $193.9 million, more than three times the $57.75 million in 2018. With growth like that, some settling is expected. 

As Max Hammond pointed out when discussing the locally produced AppalachiCanna CBD products, Kentucky hemp is considered a premium product in the market, and it can command premium prices. It’s a good thing for Kentucky farmers and industry related to hemp products. 

But a recent opinion by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) may hurt other local businesses crafting hemp derived products. 

The KDA has issued an opinion stating that Delta 8 THC, a derivative of hemp plants and not the same as the THC regulated by federal statute, is illegal in Kentucky. The federally regulated THC is a combination of Delta 9 THC and THCA. 

Confusing? Very. Basically the loophole is that Delta 9 comes from marijuana plants, whereas Delta 8 is derived from hemp plants with less than 0.3% of Delta 9/THCA, therefore Delta 8 is legal. Or was legal. Or exists in some legal limbo. It’s still found on some store shelves – though others have pulled it – and despite the KDA’s opinion that it is a psychoactive substance illegal under state law, they don’t have authority to enforce that opinion.

For now, the future of Delta 8 in Kentucky remains fuzzy. While some claim it has an intoxicating effect similar to marijuana, others who have used both Delta 8 and Delta 9 products say that Delta 8 has some of the beneficial therapeutic and relaxation effects that earned marijuana medicinal status in other states, but without the associated “foggy head” they experience with marijuana or products containing marijuana derived Delta 9. 

Whatever decisions are reached are bound to impact local businesses making and distributing Delta 8 products from legal hemp – like The Eastern Kentucky Hemp Company. With new locations and products in cities across the state, the Grayson-based company is poised for real growth in the CBD and Delta 8 markets. They are creating jobs in their stores and could significantly add to the local tax base in the coming years. But a lot of that potential growth is predicated on the future of the Delta 8 market. If the market is stifled, the growth of this company could be too. 

There are arguments to be made about the potential therapeutic effects of Delta 8, and the ethics of using legislation to stop research into those potential therapeutic effects of the compound, or other possible synthesized cannabis compounds related to THC, before they can even begin. There are arguments to be made about adhering to the letter of the law, and about adhering to the spirit of the law. But for us, it comes down to money and inevitability. 

One hundred years of marijuana prohibition have done nothing to curb use of the plant. 

There are also proven medicinal uses for the plant, in both the marijuana and hemp form. Other states around the nation have already legalized medicinal marijuana. Several more of those have also legalized recreational use by adults. It hasn’t been without controversy, but the sky has not fallen. Police departments and school districts have received a tax boon from the legal sales. The trend seems to be – whether it’s two years from now or ten – toward federal deregulation as well. 

It would be a shame for a state with growing conditions and an agricultural legacy like Kentucky to miss their seat on that bus because of a resistance to growth and change. 

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