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Kentucky Hemp Is The Heart Of American Hemp: Talking With Jim Higdon

Kentucky Hemp Is The Heart Of American Hemp: Talking With Jim Higdon
Ministry of Hemp Podcast

 
 
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Before it became known for tobacco growing, Kentucky was the heart of American hemp. Today, Kentucky is again becoming a leader in U.S. hemp.

In this episode of the Ministry of Hemp Podcast, our host, Matt, talks about the USDA hitting the pause button on some regulations. Then, he talks with Jim Higdon, an author, historian, journalist, and owner of Cornbread Hemp. Jim talks about the surprising story of Kentucky’s place in American hemp history and its future. The conversation also touches on the “Hemp for Victory” program, when farmers were briefly encouraged to grow hemp during World War II.

Check out Jim’s book, “The Corn Bread Mafia.”

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Before starting Cornbread Hemp, James Higdon documented the story of the "Cornbread Mafia," generations of illegal cannabis growers in Kentucky. Photo: The cover of "The Cornbread Mafia" by James Higdon
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Before starting Cornbread Hemp, James Higdon documented the story of the “Cornbread Mafia,” generations of illegal cannabis growers in Kentucky.

Kentucky Hemp Is The Heart Of American Hemp: Complete episode transcript

Below is the complete transcript of episode 32 of the Ministry of Hemp podcast.

Matt Baum:
I’m Matt Baum, and this is the Ministry of Hemp podcast brought to you by ministryofhemp.com, America’s leading advocate for hemp and hemp education.

Matt Baum:
Welcome back to another episode of the Ministry of Hemp podcast. My name is Matt Baum. I’m your host, and today we’re going to talk about Kentucky. But first there is some good news for embattled hemp farmers out there coming out of the USDA, for a change that is.

USDA delays provisions of hemp regulations

Matt Baum:
At the end of February, the US Department of Agriculture announced that they are temporarily going to be delaying the enforcement of two provisions of its hemp regulations. Hemp producers will not be required to use a laboratory registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration or the DEA to conduct potency tests on their crops, and this is at least for now and for the time being and possibly even more importantly, farmers that test over 0.03% for THC in their hemp crop will not be forced to destroy those crops. Now, it’s not because the DEA came to their senses or they listened to a lot of the farmers that weren’t crazy about these provisions at all. Actually it comes down to the fact that there just isn’t a sufficient capacity in the United States for the testing and disposal of noncompliant hemp plants. The DEA just doesn’t have the time or budget for this kind of enforcement when they’re already fighting a war on real illegal drugs.

Matt Baum:
The changes come in response to feedback from an industry stakeholders, many of which argued that the policies that were included in the USDA’s interim final rule on hemp would prove cost prohibitive for farmers and inhibit the growth of the market since the crop was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. Well, it turns out it could be breaking the DEA as well. So this is very good news for hemp producers. It probably means that we’re going to look at that 0.03% THC level, which again is completely arbitrary and loosen that up a little bit. And there’s no doubt that independent testing through laboratories that are already doing this is going to be both better, more consistent, and probably cheaper than anything the DEA would have been offering. So for now, the laboratory testing and disposal requirements are being delayed until October 31st, 2021 or until a final rule is released.

Matt Baum:
The USDA said the delay will serve as “a temporary measure to allow a smooth transition into regular enforcement and give the DEA enough time to increased registered analytical lab capacity.” With the amount of farmers that are now starting to grow him and the amount of hemp that is being grown in the United States. I would honestly be shocked if the DEA does take this on. Chances are they’re going to say, “We’re going to trust your third party lab results” and they’re probably going to take a hard look at the punishments for what they call hot hemp, which are hemp plants that are over that 0.03% THC level. Regardless, it’s good news for farmers and producers everywhere.

Hemp in Kentucky, with Jim Higdon

Matt Baum:
There is a reason then if you start looking into the history of hemp in the United States, Kentucky is going to come up again and again and again. And surprisingly enough, it’s directly related to the same plant growing in the Hindu Kush mountains. There is an insane history of hemp in the bluegrass basin of Kentucky. It’s got everything: heroic, patriotic farmers turned outlaw farmers and later legal farmers forced to hire outlaws just to figure out how to get this plant growing. My guest today, Jim Higdon, is the author of the book, “The Cornbread Mafia,” and you should check it out if you get a chance because it is insane. Here’s my conversation with Jim Higdon of Cornbread Hemp. So how did you come to hemp? How did this start? Did you have a farming background? Did you always want to grow hemp? How did you stumble into this?

Jim Higdon:
I’m a generation removed from the farm. My mother grew up on a farm. I grew up in the big city of Lebanon, Kentucky, population 10,000 or so.

Matt Baum:
Oh my.

Jim Higdon:
Right. So I come into this space. My hometown in central Kentucky was the headquarters of this thing called the Cornbread Mafia. And in the late 80s, 70 country guys from central Kentucky arrested on 30 farms in 10 states with 200 tons of marijuana. And of these 70 guys that were caught, none of them talked, and it frustrated federal law enforcement’s ability to prosecute them as a group because there were no witnesses. So the federal prosecutors held a press conference in the summer of 1989 to lay out their case against these guys. In the process of that press conference, one of the prosecutors referred to them as the Cornbread Mafia.

Matt Baum:
Of course.

Jim Higdon:
And so that’s where this term comes from in the public’s mind is from this press conference. And I’m in eighth grade when that happens. My formidable years growing up in Central Kentucky Middle School, high school grew up in the shadow of this superlative outlaw cannabis operation called Cornbread Mafia.

Matt Baum:
They were heroes.

Jim Higdon:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matt Baum:
They were effectively heroes.

Jim Higdon:
Well, yeah, antiheroes, mixed hero. Those are mixed bag. But guys doing the right thing, certainly not talking in exchange for a lesser sentence was something that was viewed as heroic and sacrificial. Lots of these men sacrificed years of their lives to protect other men.

Matt Baum:
Sure. It’s that whole thing in every gangster movie that “I ain’t no rat. You’re not going to get that out of me.”

Jim Higdon:
All the gangster movies where there are rats.

Matt Baum:
Yeah. Well, there are those rats. Yeah.

Jim Higdon:
The only one we know about Goodfellas is because Henry Hill is a rat.

Matt Baum:
That’s true I suppose.

Jim Higdon:
For context. And so for a long time, this operation was basically forgotten and hidden because no one would talk about it. I went off to become a writer and wanted to write a book and there was a story to write a book about. So I went to Center College undergrad. I went to Brown university for the creative writing program. I lived in New York for a while. I went to the Columbia Journalism School and at Columbia realized how to dig into court records and make narrative out of them and came home and wrote a book about Cornbread Mafia using the writing techniques and reporting techniques I’d learned along the way.

Jim Higdon:
And so I was able to crack open this story that no one had been able to crack open before and tell the story in a fulsome way. And then parlayed the book success into a journalism career where I was covering cannabis politics at a national level for outlets like Politico and Thrillist and the Washington Post.

Matt Baum:
Not bad.

Jim Higdon:
So, not bad. So I was covering the 2018 Farm Bill for Politico out in a harvest in Western Kentucky, saw the 2018 hemp cannabinoid harvest come in and realize that there was this opportunity, and no one was at the time making products the right way, branding things the right way. Everyone was trying to pretend then that hemp just sort of fell out of the sky and they had no history.

Matt Baum:
Of course.

Jim Higdon:
And having been a journalist and a book writer in this space wanted to give some history to the branding aspect and incorporate the story of Kentucky hemp into a good brand. And that just hadn’t been done. So I’ve got an opportunity, partnered with my first cousin who has an eCommerce background and an MBA, and we’ve bounced some seed capital right out of the gate. And this time last year we were formulating products. We’re a brand. We’re working with processors and commerce.

Matt Baum:
Gotcha. Okay.

Jim Higdon:
We’ve developed a relationship with the Kentucky Organic Hemp Cooperative. So we’re working inside that cooperative and we’re letting good farmers be good farmers. That’s not what we do. We’re about custom formulating products and then selling those products in a way that moves those farmers a biomass into the marketplace.

A history of hemp in Kentucky

Matt Baum:
Sure, sure. Why Kentucky? How come every time I dig into any hemp history, it all goes back to Kentucky? What is the story here?

Jim Higdon:
So you’re asking the right guy because I’m… Maybe the wrong guy if you want a short answer to this question.

Matt Baum:
No, it’s an interview show. We got to flesh it out. Come on, man.

Jim Higdon:
So a number of pieces to this. The first hemp crop in Kentucky that’s documented is from 1775. That’s before statehood. That’s before the Revolutionary War.

Matt Baum:
Yeah. But something happened in 1776 as I recall. It was fairly big.

Jim Higdon:
Correct. When Kentucky was still a county of the colony of Virginia, there was hemp being grown here. So it predates the origin story of the nation. And it grows really well here. And it wasn’t until these Cornbread Mafia guys in the 70s they figured it out before everyone else. What they figured out was the seeds they were bringing back from Southeast Asia grew really well in Kentucky. And why was it that seeds from Asia were growing well in Kentucky? And it’s because Kentucky sits on the 37th parallel. Just north of the southern border with Tennessee is the 37th. And if you stretch that across the other side of the world, it crosses the Hindu Kush mountain range.

Jim Higdon:
So all of the strains of indica that originate in the Hindu Kush like a certain set of light cycles. And those light cycles are replicated in Kentucky because they’re on the same latitude line.

Matt Baum:
And I would guess it’s mainly light cycles, not so much soil. The soil has got to be different there.

Jim Higdon:
Well the soil is part of it. It’s a component to it as is the water.

Matt Baum:
Sure.

Jim Higdon:
But the plant is on a clock and that clock is based on light per day. Okay. And she switches from vegetative stage to flowering stage based on the amount of light she’s getting in a day. And so the light cycles on the 37th parallel are what she wants. And you combine that with the bluegrass basin’s agricultural qualities. The reason why our bourbon is great and our resources are fast is because the soil and the water are naturally superior in a variety of ways. And this combination of things creates a microclimate that’s great for the hemp plant.

Matt Baum:
So the hemp literally wants to grow there.

Jim Higdon:
Yeah. She really wants to be there. That’s what it’s all about.

Kentucky’s last hemp crop

Matt Baum:
Wow. And so this starts at 1776 and it carries through for how long before the United States government says, “Shut this down”?

Jim Higdon:
So the last hemp crop is 1937, and the pre-modern hemp crop, when they’re growing it for fiber, they harvest it in the spring. So they leave it out in shocks all winter long. And that’s a retting process to help break down the herd so that it’s easier to deal with the fiber. So there’s a photo essay that we’ve come across from 1938 showing a photo essay of the last harvest of the last crop in Kentucky. And then everyone thinks it’s gone away for good. And then World War II brings it back for three or four years.

Matt Baum:
Right. So using a lot of that same knowledge from people that just were growing it, I’m sure.

Jim Higdon:
Correct. It was outlawed in ’37, and I’m sure listeners of your podcast are well-aware of a variety of reasons why it becomes illegal in 1937. But I think principle among them is that alcohol becomes legal again in ’33, and federal law enforcement suddenly does not have something to prohibit. And so marijuana is the next substance up on the list.

Matt Baum:
And hemp looks just like it get, so guess what? You’re going too.

Jim Higdon:
Right. They can’t rough folks up for alcohol anymore. So they’re going to find something else to do it with. Naturally very racist in its origins. The use of marijuana in the language because it’s a Spanish word because that’s what the Mexicans were using to describe it as opposed to cannabis. It’s very clear the origins are like it’s race management. The origins of the prohibition are race management.

Matt Baum:
Absolutely.

Jim Higdon:
It’s for white people to control minority groups.

Matt Baum:
Absolutely.

‘Hemp for Victory’ in Kentucky

Jim Higdon:
And the market for American hemp is declining over this time period because of foreign competition for cheaper hemp and jute grown elsewhere, particularly the Philippines where the federal government, the American federal government was getting much of its hemp from the Philippines. And so the federal government, the Navy was fine with prohibiting hemp in America because they were getting all their hemp from the Philippines. But as soon as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they attacked the Philippines. And so when the United States loses possession of the Philippines, it’s then that we have to go back to our farmers and be like, “You know that thing that we told you not to do anymore? Will you please do it for two to three years?”

Matt Baum:
We should start doing that again.

Jim Higdon:
Yeah. So Hemp for Victory, hemp for the war effort and it all came back to Kentucky. I think nine states were involved in Hemp for Victory. My understanding is only Kentucky was the only state that the federal government took the seeds and they were using those hemp seeds to then grow hemp crops in places with better climates.

Matt Baum:
Only Kentucky-based seeds basically is what you’re saying.

Jim Higdon:
That’s my understanding. Yeah.

Matt Baum:
Wow.

Jim Higdon:
And again, it’s this Kentucky superiority even in this pre-modern era where the government and farmers sort of recognized and understood that the hemp crop coming out of Kentucky was somehow superior.

Matt Baum:
Is it just the 37th parallel? Is it just the lighting, the fact that the hemp is familiar with that, or is there some kind of terroir or some kind of magic to it?

Jim Higdon:
There’s definitely some terroir .I mean it’s definitely bluegrass basin has this agricultural climate that is superior for raising horses. Thoroughbred horses are unique to Kentucky. There were no horses here to begin with. When white people showed up in Kentucky, there were no horses.

Matt Baum:
Right.

Jim Higdon:
Right. Horses are not native to here. They came here because of river traffic with New Orleans and bringing back very good horses from New Orleans and then pairing those horses with English stallions. But the fact that horses are raised well in Kentucky was something that people kind of discovered. It was like, “Oh, these horses are better.” And it was because of the limestone foundation underneath the bluegrass basin filters out all the heavy metals out of the water and makes the water better for the bones or something along those lines.

Matt Baum:
Sure.

Jim Higdon:
And the same reasons that make Kentucky thoroughbred horses superior is similar to the same reason why our bourbon is superior, again, because we’re making it with this water that’s limestone filtered, and that water and that soil and that agricultural climate lends itself perfectly to the hemp plant. And then you add to it the light cycles and it just clicks and works.

Becoming a Ministry of Hemp Insider

Matt Baum:
Take a quick break. So Kit, the editor in chief of ministryofhemp.com can tell you about our new Patreon. Take it away, Kit.

Kit O’Connell:
Hi, this is Kit O’Connell. I’m the editor-in-chief at Ministry of Hemp. I hope you’re enjoying the Ministry of Hemp podcast and the articles we’ve been publishing recently. But today I want to talk to you about the newest way that you can support what we do.

Kit O’Connell:
So we’re launching a Patreon at patreon.com/ministryofhemp. And this Patreon will help our readers and fans contribute to what we do. With your help, we’ll be able to make our podcast and produce even more great articles about science and information about hemp and CBD. We’ll publish more recipes and more guides. We’ll be able to work with more journalists, chefs, and authors of all kinds. Not only that, but by joining our Patreon, you’ll become a hemp insider. We’re launching a special newsletter just for our patrons. Each month we’ll work with experts and advocates and other industry professionals to give you an inside look at hemp and offer you ways to help the return of our favorite plant nationwide.

Kit O’Connell:
To get access to this new newsletter, you can donate any amount on our Patreon, even as low as $3 a month. For a few dollars more, we’ll send you some Ministry of Hemp stickers and even samples of our favorite CBD products. If you joined before February 15th at $25 or more, we’ll give you a Ministry of Hemp T-shirt as well.

Kit O’Connell:
So if you love hemp and the work that we’re doing at the Ministry of Hemp, I hope you’ll support us. You can join at patreon.com/ministryofhemp. That’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/ministryofhemp, which is all one word. Thanks.

Growing cannabis in the bluegrass basin

Jim Higdon:
If you trace the 37th parallel across the country, let’s give everyone their due, because it’s the 37th parallel. It’s also the bluegrass basin which intersects with the 37th parallel, but the border between New Mexico and Colorado is the 37th parallel. And then if you trace that into California, it’s Fresno to Santa Cruz is the 37th parallel. So those ideal life cycles exist elsewhere in the country. But that combined with the agricultural climate in Kentucky is what makes it special.

Matt Baum:
There is a lot of hemp growing through all of those areas that you just discussed too, a lot of huge hemp farms that are right there. And I guess it makes perfect sense. I never really thought of that. Let me ask you, with your historical background and looking into all this information about how they were growing and why they’re growing it there, did that help you working with farmers in the area? Was there a lot of forgotten knowledge that you guys uncovered or was this stuff sort of still ingrained in people, like people still remember some of this stuff?

Jim Higdon:
Both these things. A lot of these Cornbread guys who started growing outlaw cannabis in the 70s remembered it being grown during World War II or their fathers did and it was still growing wild behind the barn. It was just this plant that no one gave a second thought about, but then when those young guys went off to Vietnam and realized what the value of that plant was in other parts of the country, all you had to do is grow it and not get caught. They were often racist. One thing that I was stressing to early farmers as they adopted this crop and something that people learn the hard way is a lot of these straight lace farmers who are growing him for the first time, they needed a convict consultant. They needed a consultant with a criminal record.

Matt Baum:
Really?

Jim Higdon:
Well, I mean not necessarily a criminal record. Former cultivators are necessary to share their knowledge. There’s a lot of tricks to this plant that aren’t common knowledge. And for farmers getting into it thinking if they could grow it like any other crop suddenly found out that that was not the case. The plant was very particular and peculiar, and she needed somebody who knows how to grow that sort of plant. And so even though licenses are denied to felons with a drug crime within 10 years of their past, it became very clear to people holding licenses that they needed the expertise of those people to help them grow successful hemp.

Matt Baum:
You can still hire that outlaw and bring him in and go, “What am I doing wrong? What am I missing?”

Jim Higdon:
And then also we can change the rules in the future so that outlaw doesn’t have to be hired. That outlaw can get his own license and we can incorporate that former outlaw back into tax-paying society more quickly.

Matt Baum:
Right. Because at the end of the day, this was a farmer we’re talking about. This isn’t a terrorist.

Jim Higdon:
Right.

The future of Kentucky hemp

Matt Baum:
So what do you see? Right now, things are kind of uncertain as far as over-saturation and farmers having trouble getting product to market. What do you see as the future? Where does Kentucky go from here?

Jim Higdon:
Kentucky in the future will become a boutique flower market as the market expands and matures. CBD isolate will be produced in midwestern states that are growing thousands of acres of hemp for grain and fiber and then taking what’s left over and making isolate out of it. So Kentucky has a role as a boutique flower producer making superior flower in a very larger market. But in order for this market to mature, it’s going to take some time because as you mentioned, the glut in production from last year combined with the lack of FDA regulations, and it might not have been a glut of production last year had FDA come in with regulations, which would have allowed major retailers and big box retailers to offer CBD products and have a fuller expression of CBD in the marketplace. That production that happened last year might’ve been sufficient to bury out the first-

Matt Baum:
Sure. Not to mention banking rules would have been nice too. So companies could actually accept credit cards and accept payments. I mean…

Jim Higdon:
Right. For instance, lots of these arbitrary and artificial barriers to the marketplace have really done a number on the hemp farmers. The hemp farmer got stuck with all that. The supply chain got bottlenecked and the hemp farmer got stuck. Now will the hemp farmer get unstuck in the future? I really believe that is the case. The recent comments by the FDA commissioners seem very positive, like inevitable. He’s not real happy about CBD, but feels it’s a fool’s errand to try to put the genie back in the bottle. So those regulations will come in time presumably this calendar year, although we thought it was last calendar year too. So who knows.

Jim Higdon:
But when those regulations come in, then we start seeing a fuller expression of the marketplace through major retailers. Major pharmacies begin carrying these products and giving farmers more avenues to the marketplace. So it’s just through brands like mine or through their own brands, through house brands through all kinds of different ways of moving CBD products to the consumer. The consumer is leery because the FDA hasn’t come in.

Matt Baum:
Of course, of course.

Jim Higdon:
Retailers are leery and then bad actors inside the hemp space are making it worse and then skeptical and cynical journalists are making that worse. So it’s a trust deficit spiral that we’re kind of in a little bit, but that all works itself out when the FDA comes in, which will happen soon enough.

Mitch McConnell and hemp

Matt Baum:
Right. Let me ask you a political question then. I don’t want you to get too.. Yeah, I know. We both go, “Ooh.” I’m not asking you to take a side or anything, but why do you think it is that a traditionally red state like Kentucky, which is definitely an agriculture state, is so favorable? Mitch McConnell is not a guy I agree with on most, but has been very, very pro-hemp. Why is Kentucky so pro in helping farmers with this? Whereas you have other states like where I’m from, Nebraska, where we’re treating it like it’s crack cocaine and it’s killing children. What do you think the difference is there?

Jim Higdon:
The similarities on paper seem very similar, right? Agricultural states, low population density, mostly white, conservative Republican senators and statewide office holders.

Matt Baum:
Yeah. We can literally check all those boxes except for this hemp thing. I don’t get it.

Jim Higdon:
So this started in Kentucky before Mitch McConnell got on board with the agriculture commissioner whose name name is Jamie Comer, who’s now the Congressman for the first district of Kentucky. And Commissioner Comer worked for years to build a coalition to get hemp legal in Kentucky. That started in 2011 or 2012, and then he pushed to get it. We do elections in Kentucky in off years. I think he was elected in ’11 and began pushing for hemp in ’12 and then got it passed through the legislature in Kentucky in ’13. And then once it passes the legislature, then Mitch McConnell slowly becomes interested as folks like Jamie Comer worked with McConnell to get it over the finish line. And McConnell gets on board but only two half steps. McConnell gets a lot of credit. The credit where it’s due for getting this in the Farm Bill for discovering the Farm Bill as the vehicle to move this agenda and to getting it over the finish line, not just in ’14 but again in ’18.

Matt Baum:
Right.

Jim Higdon:
Right. It didn’t take care of itself. McConnell had to exercise some political capital to get that done.

Matt Baum:
Oh yeah.

Jim Higdon:
But he did it thinking that he could just legalize hemp one step and do no service to what he calls hemp’s illicit cousin marijuana and that he could take a half step towards hemp legalization, call it a day and have business friendly businesses involved in the hemp space.

Matt Baum:
Keep the farmers happy.

Jim Higdon:
Yeah. Make the farmers happy and not make any of his law enforcement supporters unhappy. But that really hasn’t born out to be the case. He’s let a genie out of the bottle and now farmers have a taste of what the cannabis plant at the lower end of the marketplace will bear. And now farmers are saying, “Well, why can’t we do this other thing?” And so, once farmers have a taste of the cannabis economy, even in a limited fashion, like we’ve experienced in Kentucky with hemp, they want it all. And farmers are the sorts of constituents in a place like Kentucky that pull a lot of weight.

Matt Baum:
Of course, there’s a lot of them.

Jim Higdon:
Well there’s a lot of them. And also you don’t have to have a lot of them in these low density state Senate districts.

Matt Baum:
Sure.

Jim Higdon:
Because one farmer pulls 30 votes or 50 votes because he’s got a family and a church, and he’s a guy who pulls all these votes in his people. If he says he’s for somebody or against somebody, then there’s a group of people who follow along.

Matt Baum:
Sure. And all the other farmers look at this as well and they’ve got people with them. I mean…

Jim Higdon:
They’ve got people with them. So they’re tastemakers and thought leaders in the rural communities, and legislators pay attention to that. And in Frankfort, in the state capital, when it’s law enforcement versus hippies, law enforcement are going to win that argument every time. If it’s law enforcement versus communities of color, law enforcement is going to win that argument every time. But if it’s law enforcement versus farmers, law enforcement might get screwed.

Matt Baum:
Yeah, absolutely.

Jim Higdon:
And so finally, there’s a constituency group in Frankfort where they have a lot of political clout and they’re getting on board with expanding cannabis rights.

Matt Baum:
Well, and-

Jim Higdon:
So that’s where I think a lot of movement has been is getting farmers bought into this notion that this can help the farm.

Medical cannabis in Kentucky?

Matt Baum:
And medical marijuana, from my understanding, was just basically introduced into Kentucky. Like last week there was a bill that passed, is that right?

Jim Higdon:
It’s in the legislature. It has passed the house. It is in the Senate. So it passed the house 63 to 30, a clear two thirds majority in a chamber that’s controlled by Republicans again by the same margin. So half of those 63 yes votes are Republican yes votes. And then in the Senate we’ll wait and see. It is not yet, to my knowledge, been posted to a committee and the committee assignment will determine its fate. Either it’d be go to a committee where we can get it through committee. Or it’d go to a committee where it will die.

Matt Baum:
But all this literally goes back to Kentucky’s history of success with this plant because of where it’s at. Because of, like you said, the 37th parallel because of not even after it was outlawed and prohibition came in, outlaws keeping this practice alive basically.

Jim Higdon:
Yeah.

Matt Baum:
And now farmers today saying, “We want this. We’re going to do this and you can either back us or we’ll vote for somebody who will.”

Jim Higdon:
I mean that seems to be what’s happening. Republicans are getting their heads around what they said they would never do, which is let this happen. Now all of a sudden there’s a lot of the stages of grief going on with Republican lawmakers, lots of bargaining.

Matt Baum:
I’ve noticed that.

Jim Higdon:
There’s like, “Well…” The marijuana bill that’s moving in Kentucky is a no smoking marijuana bill as I understand it. Flower sales will occur, but that flower will be packaged in packaging that says “not for smoking.”

Matt Baum:
Right. And the next step is they want to grow in Kentucky too.

Jim Higdon:
Right. Well the next step is the cultivation side, and the fees for cultivating are not worked out yet in this bill. So we’ll see if it’s a farmer friendly cultivation license level or if it’s corporate tax. Is it a $5,000 licensing fee or is it a $55,000?

Matt Baum:
Right.

Jim Higdon:
Can someone get in here and grow or do they have to have a private equity behind them to even sniff at it. So let’s not work itself out. So we’ll see.

Creating a future for hemp farmers

Matt Baum:
So you’re involved in this as well as an owner of Cornbread Hemp. What’s that like for you? How has business been? How are you feeling about this? Do you feel good? Is Kentucky moving the right way? Is this going to help you as a business owner?

Jim Higdon:
I feel good. The business is good. Kentucky is moving the right way only because all the other options had been tried.

Matt Baum:
Sure. They’re moving the right away in spite of themselves.

Jim Higdon:
Right. Well, you haven’t tried this way. We should go forward. So this glut that we’re talking about, this problem with an oversupply, while it hurts farmers, in the scheme of business, it helps brands like me because it’s lowering my costs. So in that narrow sense, that’s good for business, although in the grand scheme of things, it’s bad and shouldn’t happen. We’re trying to get farmers paid here in this business. Whole point of this is to create a supply chain where everyone is happy. And so having a supply chain where the people responsible for making the product are unhappy because FDA hasn’t approved it, it’s no good. So it’s no good in a general sense, but in a strictly Machiavellian sense it’s good for brands when the prices go down.

Matt Baum:
Of course.

Jim Higdon:
But we need to create a system that works for farmers. And the only way we do that is with FDA regulations and a full realization of the CBD hemp space. And then every farm bill that gets passed from now on, we will advocate for raising the THC levels. So better and better hemp is able to get into the marketplace.

Matt Baum:
Right. And it makes it easier and easier for farmers instead of having to come out and burn their entire fields because they were 0.01% over.

Jim Higdon:
And it’s happening. The farmers are having to destroy crops and it’s just heartbreaking.

Matt Baum:
Yeah.

Jim Higdon:
I don’t even understand from a lawmaking perspective how you can expect farmers to take this kind of risk, and then have them destroy their crop because it’s a fraction of a percentage point over an arbitrarily low ceiling.

Matt Baum:
That was maybe part of that dance that they were doing to keep the genie in the bottle a little bit though.

Jim Higdon:
Well, right, and I think they danced too hard on the bottom. So I think that the interim final rules from USDA, they really tried to pin it down, and they realize when the rule came out, they pinned down too many variables too tight, and it made it completely impossible.

Matt Baum:
Absolutely.

Jim Higdon:
And now even Kentucky, the USDA cites Kentucky’s rules over and over again as the model that the USDA is enacting an interim final rule, but then Kentucky doesn’t adopt it. Kentucky is still operating under the 2014 Farm Bill, which is bonkers. And I haven’t gotten a good reason why that is other than they advocated for a system that they now realize isn’t working.

Matt Baum:
Right. So what do we do? Fix it or replace it? What do you think?

Jim Higdon:
Well, we fix it. We have to elect people who are knowledgeable and competent enough and brave enough to stand up for people who don’t want it fixed. There’s a number of ways to fix it. At the state level, you fix it with more advocacy. At a federal level, we fix it at every Farm Bill. I think the Farm Bill is an every five year endeavor. Every five years, we have an opportunity to raise the THC threshold to eliminate the felon ban to reaffirm cannabinoids as being protected under the Farm Bill to do all these things to ensure that this industry remains on the right track.

Matt Baum:
2023 basically is the next time we get to take a shot at this.

Jim Higdon:
Right, yeah.

Matt Baum:
Are you going to be there? You’re going to be fighting the good fight, right?

Jim Higdon:
I mean, it depends on my customers but absolutely. This business is built to last and this business is designed to advocate for good outcomes. So when we get there, we will be on the front lines clamoring for a THC threshold. Instead of 0.3%, it should be 3.0%.

Matt Baum:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jim Higdon:
Let’s move this needle on where the THC threshold is and lawmakers over time realize they can vote in favor of these things and their world doesn’t end and it makes them more willing and able to make the good votes going forward.

Matt Baum:
And who knows, maybe you have an agricultural constituency that can, I don’t know, make a living.

Jim Higdon:
For instance.

Matt Baum:
Just to begin.

Jim Higdon:
Instead now we have dairy farmers on suicide watch because the dairy industry is collapsing. We actually have a growth industry in the agriculture space that we need to find a way to embrace.

Matt Baum:
Absolutely. Hey, I want to thank you for your knowledge, your time for coming on the show and, like I said, for fighting the good fight, man. This is great.

Jim Higdon:
And I really appreciate it. Thanks so much for having me.

Final thoughts from Matt

Matt Baum:
As always in the show notes, you’ll be able to find links to Jim Higdon’s book, The Cornbread Mafia, and the cornbreadhemp.com. Be sure to check out both when you get a chance.

Matt Baum:
And that brings us to the end of another episode of the Ministry of Hemp podcast. I want to thank everybody that has been downloading and supporting. And if you have questions that you need answered, you can call me at (402) 819-6417 with your hemp-related questions, and we will play them, my buddy, Kit, we mentioned earlier, the editor-in-chief at ministryofhemp.com. And I will answer them on the show. You can also send me your questions to [email protected] or hit us up on any of our social media. You can always find us either @ministryofhemp or /ministryofhemp. We’re everywhere.

Matt Baum:
Speaking of ministryofhemp.com, head over there to check out a couple of great articles we got up, one about understanding the different types of hemp oil and another great one that has all about terpenes where you can learn the common terpenes in hemp and cannabis and what they do. We’ll be talking about terpenes real soon here on the show.

Matt Baum:
Here at Ministry of Hemp, we believe an accessible world is a better world for everybody. So there is a full written transcript of this show in the notes for this episode over at ministryofhemp.com. And like Kit said earlier, if you like what we do here and you want to support, check out our Patreon page /ministryofhemp over patreon.com where you can get all kinds of cool stuff like podcast extras, exclusive articles and content. And it’s just a great way to show that you support what we’re doing here and this great plant that we’re trying to educate everyone about.

Matt Baum:
For now, this is your host, Matt Baum, reminding you to take care of yourself, take care of others, and make good decisions, will you? This is the Ministry of Hemp podcast signing off.

Jim Higdon joined the Ministry of Hemp Podcast to talk about Kentucky Hemp and his books. Photo: A composite photo showing Jim Higdon and the cover of the book Cornbread Mafia.
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Matt Baum has been hosting, producing, and editing podcasts for almost ten years. He's been a touring musician, chef, journalist, and avid comic book fan for as long as he can remember. Currently, Matt lives in Omaha Nebraska with his wife Kacie and pugs Mable and Bobo.

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