A side-by-side comparison: hemp on the left vs. marijuana on the right
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Some think it's basically the same as marijuana. Others think pot growers would hide their plants in fields of hemp if they could.
But Kentucky's Agriculture Commissioner wants everyone to know those are misconceptions, and he's making legalizing hemp his number one priority in 2013.
"Because of the internet and social media, I think most people understand now there's a huge difference between industrial hemp and marijuana," said Ag Commissioner James Comer.
While Comer works for approval on the state level, Senator Rand Paul will push for the federal government to allow farmers to grow hemp as they can in Canada.
Paul is excited about the possibility of using hemp to make paper. "Think about it," he said. "Trees take fifteen years to grow; hemp takes one season to grow."
Hemp was prominently grown in Jefferson and Shelby Counties in the 1800s and early 1900s for everything from paper and fuel, to rope and feed products.
Hemp supporters blame oil and timber interests in the 1930s for tying hemp to marijuana in a national campaign that led to hemp being made illegal.
If it's made legal again, Commissioner Comer says it would be grown on strictly regulated and monitored farms and that it could have an impact of hundreds of millions of dollars once manufacturing businesses pop up to use the hemp.
The hemp plant actually contains almost no THC, the mind-altering drug in marijuana. The plant looks different as well, with a thicker, taller stalk to produce the desired fiber.
If someone tried to plant marijuana in a hemp field, it wouldn't work. The plants would cross pollinate, negating the potency of the marijuana plant.
Some hemp products, including diaper inserts, are sold in Louisville stores now. Hemp is known for its absorbency. It also makes extremely durable clothing and can produce a fiber board like sheet rock for homes that has very high insulation values.
Environmentalists like hemp because it grows on marginal lands and requires little if any pesticides and herbicides. But even its supporters admit, it's not a high priority item on Capitol Hill.
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