Comer to launch 5 pilot projects to grow hemp, including testing of cannabinoids for medicinal purposes

02/17/2014 09:30 AM

LEBURN — Agriculture Commissioner James Comer on Monday announced the first five pilot programs to grow hemp in Kentucky as part of the foundation of his economic development plan for Eastern Kentucky.

“Hemp will go into the ground for the first time in Kentucky since World War II,” Comer told several hundred people at the Knott County Sportsplex along Highway 80.

That includes a project to research cannabinoids for medicinal purposes at an Eastern Kentucky site overseen by the University of Kentucky.

Comer made the announcement with both Republican U.S. senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, as well as Democratic state Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson.

“It’s really impressive what the commissioner has accomplished,” U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said.

The announcement – perhaps more importantly presence of both U.S. senators – drew national media, including CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

Comer’s economic plan included the first five pilot projects to grow hemp in Kentucky, including the UK study of cannabinoids. The other four are:

  • Researching heirloom hemp seeds in an Eastern Kentucky plot conducted by Kentucky State University and the Homegrown Heroes program.

*Researching European seed in Western Kentucky conducted by Murray State University.

  • Researching brownfield production in an urban environment by researchers at the University of Louisville.
  • Exploring hemp production at Central Kentucky facilities overseen by the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.

Michael Lewis, a Rockcastle County farmer and veteran, will be among the dozen farmers participating in the pilot project with Homegrown by Heroes and KSU. Lewis said he is looking at expanding to a 600-acre farm.

Comer, as part of his announcement, also unveiled a new marketing brand, “Appalachian Proud – Mountains of Potential,” to go along with the “Kentucky Proud” marketing slogan for Kentucky-produced food products.

The event, though, included some political overtones, including Paul and McConnell referencing President Barack Obama administration’s regulation on coal.

“The president says he’s for a balanced approach” to energy,” Paul said. “The hell he is.”

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