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TN legislator considers legalized hemp farming

11:36 PM, Aug 12, 2013   |    comments
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A certain crop is now drawing the attention of some Tennessee legislators, but its name often raises eyebrows.

Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) says hemp could boost local agriculture.

"Why not?" he said from the front porch of his own farm Monday evening. "It's not against the law to own it. It's not against the law to import it from Canada or China. It's just against the law for a farmer to raise it."

Unlike its cousin, the marijuana plant, the hemp seed contains almost none of the THC chemical that lead to a high.

"It's not marijuana, you can't smoke it," Sen. Nicely said. "But you can make thousands of products from it, and we import about half a billion dollars of it a year."

Knoxville-based company Hemp Monkey sells many of those products.

"We do a lot of natural products," said co-owner Amber Keirn. "Hemp seeds, hemp soaps and lotions, candles, clothing."

Keirn listed the benefits of the hemp, including how few pesticides it requires to grow, its low-impact on the soil, and its durable fabric products.

She said the challenge to getting others on board is differentiating between hemp and marijuana.

"It's a lot of education, too, because hemp has that connotation," Keirn said.

Hemp was grown legally in the United States until the early 1900s, when competition with other industry, coupled with its association with marijuana prompted the government to change the law. Some states, including Kentucky, have passed legislation legalizing industrial hemp farming.

After more research, Sen. Niceley says he may draft legislation in the future. Until then, he will watch Kentucky's process closely.

"Sometimes it's easy to use those other states for model legislation," he said. "If it works there, it might work here."

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