Hemp in Kentucky Creates Latest Drug War Battleground

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MT. VERNON, KY. (MainStreet) — Two brothers in Kentucky, both military veterans, are fighting to grow industrial hemp in the country they served. But Mike Lewis, 40, who in December 2012 founded Growing Warriors, an agricultural non-profit for vets, and Fred-Curtis Lewis, 36, are facing opposition from an adversary they're not trained to fight: the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

They do have momentum behind them: even in conservative Rockcastle County, where the predominantly Southern Baptist electorate has outlawed the sale of alcohol, locals and their representatives want to revive the economy by bringing grass to the Bluegrass State.

The hemp provision of the Farm Bill passed by Congress in February – co-authored by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and endorsed by the state's Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell – permits colleges, universities and state agriculture agencies to grow and experiment on industrial hemp in Kentucky and 13 other states. But on May 13, the DEA obstructed Kentucky's hemp research program by putting a hold on 250 pounds of legal industrial hemp seed imported from Italy once it arrived at a UPS facility in Louisville International Airport. The DEA told the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) it would have to apply for a seed import license. The KDA, in turn, filed a lawsuit the next day to stop the DEA's seizure.

That snafu put a damper on plans here for Friday, May 16, when Growing Warriors in conjunction with Vote Hemp, the national advocacy group for re-commercializing industrial hemp, had organized a planting of the crop at Wilson Farm. The organizations intended to use the certified industrial hemp seed provided by the KDA as part of a research and development program with Kentucky State University – marking the crop's momentous return to Kentucky after decades of federal prohibition. To add a patriotic flourish, given that the first American flags are said to have been made of hemp, Growing Warriors has plans to produce a run of Old Glory from its breed of industrial hemp.