Kentucky Hemp Overview

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What Is Hemp?

Also called industrial hemp, hemp belongs to Cannabis sativa species and has several benefits. Although it is almost identical to marijuana on the surface, both are different. The most differentiating factor between both is their chemical composition. Hemp has a lower concentration of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive and a higher CBD content. Conversely, marijuana has a higher THC concentration which is why consumers get high when used. CBD, on the other hand, provides therapeutic benefits. According to the USDA regulations on hemp production, legal hemp in the United States, including Kentucky, must not contain more than 0.3% THC content on a dry-weight basis.

While industrial hemp and marijuana have some similar physical features, marijuana plants are short, bushy, and dense. On the other hand, hemp plants are tall and thin. The following are some parts and derivatives of the hemp plants:

  • Hemp Seed - Hemp seeds are tiny, brown seeds from which the hemp plant grows. They are rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fatty acids, such as Omega-3s and Omega-6s, and can be used to make milk or eaten raw. Hemp seeds have antioxidant effects and may improve skin, heart, and joint health. They can also reduce inflammation, protect the brain, and relieve rheumatoid arthritis. People incorporate hemp seeds into their diet in several ways, including:

    • Adding them to smoothies

    • Using whole seeds to make hemp milk

    • Sprinkling ground or whole seeds on yogurt or cereal

    • Baking with hemp seeds

  • Hemp Flower - A hemp flower grows on the top of female hemp plants. It is an unprocessed bud of that hemp plant with a high concentration of CBD and a lower amount of THC. Hemp flowers are packed with medicinal properties and provide a therapeutic effect. Some of the medicinal benefits of hemp flowers are healing headaches, reducing the impact of acne, acting as an anti-depressant, and calming the senses. Regular consumption of hemp flower also keeps a person's blood pressure under control

  • Hemp Extract - Hemp extract refers to a concentration of all the ingredients of the hemp plant's stems, leaves, and flowers. It includes flavonoids, terpenes, fatty acids, plant sterols, cannabinoids, and essential nutrients and vitamins. The amount of THC in hemp extract is typically less than CBD. Hence, products made with hemp extracts tend to have more CBD compared to other cannabinoids. Most CBD oil products available in retail stores contain hemp extracts. Touted benefits of hemp extract include:

    • Reducing depression and anxiety

    • Relieving chronic pain

    • Reducing seizures in epilepsy

    • Lowering the risk of heart disease and diabetes

    • Alleviating cancer symptoms and sometimes reducing tumor-growth cells

    • Treating substance use disorders

    • Improving skin health

  • Hemp Oil - Sometimes called hemp seed oil, hemp oil is the oil extracted from the hemp plant's seeds via cold-pressing. It has a high content of three polyunsaturated fatty acids: gamma-linolenic acid, linolenic acid, and alpha-linolenic acid. The several health benefits of hemp seed oil are attributed to these three polyunsaturated acids. The benefits include lowering blood pressure, improving the skin, promoting heart health, reducing inflammation, supporting pregnancy, and relieving pain

  • Hemp Hearts - Hemp hearts are the soft interior part of unshelled hemp seeds. They do not get consumers high as they do not contain THC or CBD despite sharing the same mother with other parts of the hemp plant. Hemp hearts are packed with plant-based protein and have a line-up of all nine essential amino acids. They can be added to smoothies, baked foods, salads, and desserts. The health benefits of hemp hearts are supporting bone health, improving heart health, and aiding digestion. Other health benefits include improving brain health, reducing inflammation, promoting weight loss, improving skin conditions, and enhancing immunity levels

  • Hemp Milk - Hemp milk is a lactose-free beverage made by blending hemp seeds with water. It is an excellent alternative to dairy milk from a cow and can be used in smoothies, coffee, cereal, and tea. Hemp milk contains healthy fat, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. People use hemp milk for its several health benefits, including improving the skin, maintaining healthy blood pressure, boosting the immune system, and promoting brain health

Is Hemp Legal in Kentucky?

Yes, hemp is legal in Kentucky. In a bid to legalize hemp in the United States, the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill permitted states to operate hemp pilot programs regulating hemp production. The state pilot programs allowed hemp production for specified research purposes and had limited supervision from the federal government. Market research was included in the 2014 Farm Bill's research purposes, a component many states used to establish robust hemp programs allowing the production, processing, and sale of hemp and hemp-based products.

In 2018, the United States Congress passed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill, to expand upon the 2014 Farm Bill's hemp-related provisions. It also amended the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to exclude hemp from the definition of marijuana. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, legal hemp must contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The 2018 Farm bill permits states to have primary regulatory authority over hemp production, but they must obtain the USDA's approval by submitting their hemp plans. In September 2021, Kentucky submitted its state's hemp plan to the USDA for review before January 1, 2022, implementation date. The USDA oversees a state's hemp program if it denies or revokes the state hemp plan. States' regulatory hemp programs must satisfy the 2018 Farm Bill and comply with the USDA's final rule for hemp production.

Before the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, the Kentucky General Assembly had, in 2013, passed SB 50, a bill that exempted industrial hemp from Kentucky Controlled Substance Act. The passage of the 2014 Farm Bill paved the way for industrial hemp production for farmers interested in growing hemp. The 2014 Farm Bill's authorization of states' departments of agriculture opened the door for hemp research to begin in Kentucky, establishing the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Program. While hemp is legal in the state, no Kentucky resident can grow or process hemp plants in their homes or property without obtaining a hemp license from the state's Department of Agriculture. Per KRS 260.858(3).), it is illegal for an individual who does not have a hemp license or is not an agent of a hemp license holder to cultivate, process, or market living hemp plants, seeds, or floral items derived from hemp in Kentucky. In compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill, Kentucky does not restrict the transportation of hemp through its borders.

What Hemp Products are Legal in Kentucky?

Per 40 KRS 218A.010(28), hemp-derived CBD products are legal in Kentucky. However, such hemp-based CBD products must not exceed the legal THC limit (0.3%). According to KRS 217.03, all cosmetic and ingestible CBD products sold in the Commonwealth of Kentucky must have labels displaying certain information on the product. The Section outlines the labeling requirements for CBD products in the Commonwealth. Kentucky residents cannot cultivate hemp for food products or edibles without obtaining a hemp license. Additionally, pursuant to 902 KAR 45:190, it is illegal for a home-based processor to manufacture, market, sell, or distribute ingestible hemp-derived CBD products in Kentucky. It is illegal to smoke hemp in Kentucky, whether in private residences or public. As a result, it violates state law for drivers or truckers in Kentucky to smoke hemp. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) regulates finished CBD products in the state.

Can A Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation or Processing in Kentucky?

No, a municipality cannot restrict hemp cultivation or processing in Kentucky. Regardless of the city, county, or town, a hemp grower or processor in the Commonwealth requires the state's Department of Agriculture license to grow or process hemp, not a license issued by a municipality. Hence, no municipality in Kentucky can block a person or business licensed by the Department of Agriculture from producing or growing hemp within their borders

How to Get a License to Grow or Process in Kentucky

Per KRS 260.858, it is unlawful for anyone who is not licensed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture or who is not an agent of a licensee to cultivate, process, or market living hemp plants or floral materials derived from hemp. Individuals or businesses interested in obtaining hemp grower or hemp processor/handler licenses in Kentucky can do so in two ways: online and paper application.

Hemp grower license or processor/handler license applicants in Kentucky can submit their applications online using the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Hemp Licensing Program Portal. The portal requires that a person registers before proceeding with their application. Hemp license applicants in Kentucky are not required to pay a service charge if applying online.

Depending on their license of interests, hemp license applicants in Kentucky can complete the Hemp Grower License Application Packet or the Processor/Handler License Application Packet. Applicants must also provide the following:

  • A copy of their valid driver's license

  • Location maps and GPS coordinates of storage, handling, processing, or growing structure (indoor or greenhouse). The KDA provides instructions on how to generate GPS coordinates and maps using Google Earth

  • Background check for the applicant or key participants if a business entity from the Kentucky State Police (KSP). The cost of a background check is $20, payable by check to Kentucky State Treasurer. Applicants should fill out the Request For Conviction Records Form, package it and the check in a self-addressed stamped envelope and mail it or submit it in person to the KSP at:

Kentucky State Police

Criminal Identifications and Records Branch

1266 Louisville Road

Frankfort, KY 40601

  • A non-refundable $200 service charge fee payable by check or money order to Kentucky State Treasurer

  • Signing Authorities for Business Entities Form (only for business entities)

After completing the appropriate license application form, a Kentucky hemp license applicant must submit it with the service charge and other required documentation via mail or by hand to/at:

Kentucky Department of Agriculture

Hemp Licensing Program

111 Corporate Drive

Frankfort, KY 40601

Typically, online application evaluation is concluded within 30 days of submission, while paper applications may take up to two months.

How Much Does a License to Grow or Process Hemp Cost in Kentucky?

The cost of a hemp license in the Commonwealth of Kentucky includes a service charge and a license fee, and no application fee is assessed. Service charge is not required for online applications, while applicants must pay a non-refundable $200 service charge for paper applications.

Depending on the type of license, the following is a fee schedule for hemp licenses under the KDA hemp licensing program:

  • Licensing Fee for Hemp Processor/Handler - Processors/handlers are required to pay this fee per processing type as listed below:

    • Fiber processor - $500

    • Floral material processor - $300

    • Handlers - $500

    • Grain processor - $500

A processor/handler licensee working with multiple harvestable hemp parts must pay for each component

  • Licensing Fee for Hemp Grower - $400 per growing location/address. However, changes to growing locations/GPS coordinates after submitting an application will attract a site modification surcharge of $750

Kentucky hemp licenses are renewed annually, and licensees must pay the same fees at the original application as renewal fees. All fees for paper applications must be by check or money order and made payable to Kentucky State Treasurer.

How to Grow Hemp in Kentucky

To grow hemp in Kentucky, a person or business entity must obtain a hemp grower license from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) under the Commonwealth's hemp program. To grow hemp from seeds, a grower licensee intending to purchase seeds must first determine whether or not the seed variety they intend to acquire is approved by the KDA.

If a variety of hemp seeds is listed in the Summary of Varieties List, a grower does not require the KDA's pre-approval. If otherwise, the grower must submit a New Hemp Variety Form alongside a certificate of analysis for that variety for KDA's approval. The certificate of analysis from an independent third-party laboratory must indicate that mature hemp plants grown from that seed variety have a floral material delta-9 THC content not exceeding 0.3% on a dry weight basis.

While hemp can grow anywhere, it grows better in some types of soil than others. Before planting hemp seeds, one of the essential things to do is get the soil in the proposed location tested to understand the texture and nutrient content of the soil. Recommended soil for growing hemp in Kentucky is loose, fertile, and well-aerated loamy soil with abundant organic matter and a pH level of between 6.0 to 7.5. Hemp needs medium to high levels of phosphorus, high levels of nitrogen, moderate levels of calcium, and adequate levels of sulfur. Generally, hemp flourishes when organic matter added to soil is over 3.5%.

In Kentucky, planting hemp seeds when all danger of frost has passed is usually advised. At this time, the soil temperature will be between 46 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, an ideal range for planting hemp seeds. While the spacing between hemp plants depends on the intended purpose of cultivating the crop, all seeds should be planted between 1.9 cm and 3.2 cm deep into the soil. Typically, hemp grown for CBD manufacturing and seed should be planted farther apart, while those intended for fiber may be planted close together.

During its growing season, especially in the first six weeks, hemp requires enough moisture supply. Generally, hemp needs 20 to 30 inches of rainfall during its growth cycle to thrive. A hemp grower in Kentucky must employ an irrigation system where precipitation is less than 20 to 30 inches within the crop growth cycle. After the first six weeks or adequate moisture supply, hemp plants become well-rooted and may endure drier conditions and heavy rains.

Because hemp is subject to various pests and diseases, hemp growers may need to use pesticides on their crops. For instance, garden pests like grasshoppers, grubs, aphids, and flea beetles commonly prey on hemp plants. Similarly, blight, root rot, white mold, and grey mold are common diseases with hemp plants. Per Section 16 of 302 KAR 50:021, a licensed hemp grower in Kentucky must first be certified to apply pesticides by the KDA before using pesticides on hemp plants. Generally, hemp pesticides must meet the USDA list of prohibited and allowed substances. Also, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an approved list of pesticides for hemp cultivation. Some of these pesticides are conventional ones, while others are derived from plants and animals, otherwise known as biopesticides.

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in Kentucky?

Kentucky hemp flower laws prohibit the sale of raw hemp flowers to consumers. Only licensed hemp growers, processors, distributors, and manufacturers can purchase hemp flower, hemp pre-rolls, or ground-up materials in the Commonwealth. This means it is illegal for consumers to buy flower hemp from physical stores. However, residents of Kentucky can still buy hemp flowers from online retailers since the 2018 Farm Bill permits the shipment of hemp-derived CBD products across state lines, provided the THC content does not exceed 0.3%. Purchasing hemp flowers from online retailers can save consumers time and money.

Anyone not ready for unwanted attention should not smoke CBD hemp flowers in public or while driving in Kentucky. Hemp and marijuana look physically similar and have identical smells, and law enforcement may take hemp for marijuana if caught smoking hemp flowers in public. Individuals who wish to smoke hemp flowers in Kentucky can buy them online and smoke them in a private residence.

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Hemp vs THC

Hemp and THC are not the same. Hemp belongs to the plant species of Cannabis sativa, but unlike marijuana, hemp contains low levels of THC. Legally, the THC content of hemp should not exceed 0.3% on a dry-weight basis. THC is a chemical compound, otherwise known as a cannabinoid in Cannabis sativa plants, that produces the psychoactive or intoxicating effects associated with cannabis.

Under United States law, hemp-derived products with more than 0.3% delta-9 THC by dry weight are illegal. They are also prohibited in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. However, a recent ruling by a Kentucky judge declared that hemp-based products containing delta-8 THC as legal in the state. Hence, Kentucky residents would not violate any state law if they purchased or consumed hemp-derived delta-8 THC products like delta-8 gummies or pills.

Hemp vs CBD

Hemp and CBD are different from each other. Hemp is a member of the plant species of Cannabis sativa with more cannabidiol (CBD), one of the most prevalent cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa plants, than THC. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce an intoxication effect and is commonly used for therapeutic purposes. For example, people use CBD products for Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and arthritis.

Kentucky permits the sale and use of hemp-based CBD products, provided the products do not exceed the legal 0.3% THC content limit required by the 2018 Farm Bill. For instance, Kentucky residents can buy and possess CBD oil in the state as long as it is derived from hemp and not marijuana.

Hemp Applications

Besides its use for medicinal purposes, hemp is used for making several other products in Kentucky. These include:

  • Biofuel - Biofuels can be made from the fibrous stalks of the hemp plant. Typically, biofuels made from plants are more sustainable than conventional fuels

  • Plastic - Plastics made from hemp are 100% biodegradable and are strong and safe enough to substitute oil-based plastics made with harmful chemicals

  • Fiber - The fibrous stalks of the hemp plant are used in weaving clothes in the textiles and clothing industry

  • Food Products - Hemp seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein, and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids

  • Building Materials - Hemp is used in producing hempcrete, a product similar to concrete. However, hempcrete is made from a mixture of the woody fibers of the hemp plant mixed with lime-based binder and water. Hempcrete is fireproof, non-toxic, and breathable and is excellent for insulating floors, walls, and roofs

  • Cardboard and Paper - The pulp (short bast fiber) and the hurd (long bast fiber) are the two parts of the hemp plant used in making paper and cardboard. Papers made from the hemp plant are durable and better than those made from trees. They can be recycled seven times, unlike papers made from trees that can only be recycled up to three times

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