Kentucky's Hemp Research Pilot Program Holds Strong.

Authors: Jim Lobb and Rachel Dickey


Program Overview

The Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, allows for universities and state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp if:

1.     The industrial hemp is grown or cultivated for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural academic research; and

2.     The growing or cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the state in which such institution of higher education or state department of agriculture is located and such research occurs.

7 U.S.C. § 5940. 

Pursuant to the authority granted by the Farm Bill, Kentucky developed the Hemp Research Pilot Program, which allows for the cultivation and possession of hemp when operating within the bounds of the program.  Specifically, KRS 260.858 (3) provides that “it is unlawful for a person who does not hold a license issued by the department, or who is not an agent of the licensee, to cultivate, handle, process, or market living industrial hemp plants or viable seeds, leaf materials, or floral materials derived from industrial hemp.” 

While there is authority for the pilot program under both state and federal law, ambiguity still exists, as do inconsistencies between various agencies' intepretations.  Specifically, there is ambiguity as to which parts of the hemp plant may be legally sold pursuant to the program authority set out by the Farm Bill.  On its website, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) warns that “there is still uncertainty at the federal level regarding which parts of the hemp plant may be lawfully sold.  On August 12, 2016, a Joint Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp was released by the DEA, FDA, and the USDA, that attempted to redefine the federal definition of hemp by limiting industrial hemp research to ‘industrial purposes (fiber and seed)’.”   Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, Ryan Quarles, rejected the assertions in the Joint Statement via a formal letter on September 12, 2016.  On March 26, 2018, Commissioner Quarles and Senator McConnell announced that legislation introduced in the US Senate, proposes to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances.  The legislation, known as the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, was introduced by Senator McConnell in April of this year.  If passed, the bill will remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances.

7 U.S.C. § 5940 (Agricultural Act of 2014, Section 7606). 

KRS 260.850-260.869

302 KAR 50:010- 302 KAR 050:080

Statements and responses from Commissioner Quarles and members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation can be found on the KDA’s website.