An unlikely plant may become Tennessee's newest cash crop as local farmers may soon find some economic hope in hemp.
It's been illegal to grow hemp in the United States for close to 60 years, but that could soon be changing.
In the plant world, marijuana and hemp are cousins - both born from the same species cannabis - but used in very different ways.
Hemp, most notably, is an ingredient in oils and fuels and can be woven into clothing, rope and paper.
Some controversy exists because the hemp plant looks like the marijuana plant, but smoking it would not produce any sort of high.
Kentucky recently legalized hemp farming, and now at least one Tennessee legislator wants to do it here.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains is drafting a bill with Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, and they plan to introduce the measure in next year's legislative session.
Niceley said Kentucky and six other states have passed measures legalizing hemp even though federal law prohibits it. Nicely said there also is support for changing federal laws, notably from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, both from Kentucky.
Hemp is a money maker, is used in hundreds of products and is a $500 million yearly import to the United States.
Mike Hendley's Springfield family farm has been growing tobacco for generations, and he says hemp would be an easy sale for his fellow farmers.
"Yeah, I think it's something they would try. You know, farmers, if you say they can make money at it, they're gonna try," Hendley said.
Tobacco farmers these days often rely on other crops, including alfalfa hay and strawberries, just to survive. So, hemp would get a close look.
"Well, I'd have to see exactly what's involved in it. Don't know much about it now, but I'd learn," Hendley said.
Niceley said introducing the measure in the Tennessee Legislature would "put pressure on Congress" to repeal its prohibition on growing the plant.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Wednesday, July 23 2014 3:08 AM EDT2014-07-23 07:08:02 GMT
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