BLOOMFIELD - If legislation was passed in Kentucky to legalize hemp
production, it could be the next viable industry for the state's struggling
tobacco farmers, former governor Louie Nunn said Friday in Bloomfield. Nunn
was in town as part of a public forum to promote hemp as an alternative
crop for the state's farmers.

The meeting at Olde Bloomfield Meeting Hall was sponsored by the Bloomfield
Community of Tomorrow. Nunn said he started the first anti-drug program in
Kentucky when he was in Frankfort. "At that time marijuana was just
beginning to take roots in a very limited basis here in Kentucky," he said.
Nunn said he, like a lot of people, had associated marijuana with hemp
because they come from the same plant. "They are frequently confused," he said.

Nunn said he began to look at hemp in a different light after actor Woody
Harrelson came to Kentucky to promote growing hemp. Harrelson came to Lee
County and planted four hemp seeds. In Kentucky it's a misdemeanor to plant
four or less hemp seeds. Anything more is a felony offense, he said.
Harrelson planted the seeds, was arrested and went to jail. His case
eventually went to the Supreme Court where he was found guilty four years
later, Nunn said.

"I didn't think the fellow ought to go to jail because he hadn't done
anything. Nobody had been out of any money but him. "He came down here to
help the people in the state of Kentucky because our tobacco, as all of you
know, our tobacco program has gone to the wayside. I was looking at it as
an alternative crop for the farmers," he said. Nunn himself once farmed
about 50,000 pounds of tobacco near Horse Cave. "So I knew we needed an
alternative crop," he said.

Nunn said some automakers are using hemp in their vehicle production. The
Chevrolet Lumina has panels made from hemp; GM has a contract with hemp
growers in Canada; the dash in the Mercedes is made of hemp; and the floor
mats in the Corvette are made from hemp, he said. "And here we are sitting
right close to Toyota and Ford over in Louisville and the other plant down
in Tennessee and we need an alternative crop," Nunn said.

Wanting to find out more about hemp, Nunn went to Canada where he learned
about Canadian research in hemp production. Canadians have developed a new
variety of hemp, Anka, which has a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level
of less than .02 percent. The THC level in hemp is what differentiates it
from marijuana. Hemp cannot be used as a drug because it contains trace
levels - 0-1 percent - of THC. Marijuana's THC is about 10-15 percent.

Nunn turned to Kentucky Historian Thomas Clark, to learn more about the
history of hemp production in the state. Clark told Nunn before the Civil
War, Kentucky grew a lot of hemp, but it was a labor-intensive crop. Many
Kentucky farmers relied on slaves to help with their hemp crops, but when
slaves were freed, they no longer had help to grow it, Nunn said.

Clark was asked by the FBI to research Kentucky to find out how many people
had used hemp for psychoactive purposes. In the 100 years he researched,
Clark found one, Nunn said. Armed with this knowledge, Nunn set out to
educate people about the benefits of hemp production. "It can be grown
safely," he said.

"Law enforcement people say they can't tell difference between a hemp plant
and a marijuana plant. I say you can't tell the difference between
moonshine and water, but we haven't outlawed water," Nunn said.

Kentucky's climate and soil is best suited for production of hemp seeds,
Nunn said. "If we can get in the forefront, we can get in the same position
in the hemp industry that we were in the tobacco industry," he said. The
only place hemp is being grown in the United States is Hawaii, Nunn said.

Hawaii had a similar problem as Kentucky faces with tobacco with sugar cane
production. The cheap Asian sugar cane market destroyed the Hawaiian
industry, but Hawaii passed hemp legislation, he said. There are 17 or 18
states that are trying to get legislation to grow hemp, he said. "That's
one of the reasons I am here. I want to be first, no later than second.
First gets the advantage," Nunn said.

To make hemp production legal, Nunn said the Drug Administration would have
to change one regulation to say hemp or any plant of that variety grown
with less than 1 percent of THC is legal. If hemp production were legal, it
would eventually eliminate all outdoor marijuana growing operations, Nunn said.

The hemp would cross pollinate with the marijuana and in about two and a
half to three years the marijuana plant would lose its potency, he said. "I
see it as an opportunity as an alternative crop, but it's not something I
see in the next two years or four years, but it will come faster than you

Pubdate: Wed, 24 Apr 2002
Source: Kentucky Standard, The (KY)
Copyright: 2002 The Kentucky Standard.
Author: Stacey S. Manning