Editor’s Note: “Black and Khaki” is a column written by Enlighten Chairman Jeremy Jacobs. It’s name is derived from what has been dubbed as Jeremy’s “uniform” — a khaki hat, black shirt, khaki pants. Jeremy wears this combination daily and we felt it was only right to name his column after his signature style.
When most people think of Kentucky they dream up vivid, southern fried imagery of bourbon, horse racing, college basketball, tobacco and the sweet, twangy sounds of bluegrass music. And while all of those images paint a colorful collection of what the Bluegrass state is known for… allow me to add one more to the mix — cannabis.
Whoa! Hold up a minute! I couldn’t have possibly said cannabis, right? Wrong. The “devil’s lettuce,” as it has humorously been labeled by ignorant cannabis prohibitionists, is alive and well in the bible belt. It’s here and there’s plenty of it. My name is Jeremy Jacobs and I’m the Chairman of Enlighten, the first full scale enterprise solution in the cannabis space. Enlighten is proudly based deep in the heart of the Bluegrass state and, as a native Kentuckian and cannabis enthusiast, I feel as if it’s my duty to help recognize the important role that Kentucky has played and currently plays in cannabis in the United States.
As somebody who’s lived all 37 years of my life in this gorgeous state, a portion of which I proudly served as the executive director of KY Norml and as the CEO of a cannabis related company, I can recall on more than a few occasions where I’ve heard somebody say that marijuana was Kentucky’s true biggest cash crop. Sounds legit.
Given that Kentucky’s warm, humid climate and rich red soil combine to create an ideal environment for cultivating cannabis, it just made sense that the profits from this crop would surely outstrip those of corn, soybeans, hay, wheat, and tobacco combined. That being said, it’s understandably difficult to obtain accurate information to support or refute marijuana’s status as Kentucky’s #1 cash crop, but a study conducted in 2006 estimated that nearly $4.5 billion worth of marijuana was cultivated that year. By comparison, the USDA’s annual bulletin shows the value of the Bluegrass State’s total agricultural harvest ten years later, in 2016, at only $2.4 billion. And you know what? For a state that at times can feel unalterably opposed to any form of cannabis legalization, those are some pretty damn impressive numbers.
If you dive deeper into the history of Kentucky cannabis, you’ll see that “mary jane” has always been plentiful in the Bluegrass state. It’s somehow fitting that the first KY cannabis crop was harvested in 1775, the same year that the American Revolution began. This hemp crop, grown for the fibers used primarily in making rope, was the beginning of a thriving industry that would last into the 20th century. Senator Henry Clay grew hemp on his farm in Ashland, Kentucky and brought in seeds from Asia that eventually replaced much of the European hemp originally brought to the United States by early colonists. At one point in the early 1900’s, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that ¾ of all hemp grown in the United States came from Kentucky. By 1917, there were 18,000 acres of hemp growing here.
Following the First World War, production declined steadily as tobacco and other crops were on the rise, and the US government looked to cheaper, foreign sources for their hemp needs. The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act [sic] essentially made all forms of cannabis illegal, but the Navy was still largely dependent on the product, using it for rigging on
their ships. This wasn’t a problem, originally, as the government grew the hemp it needed on plantations in the Philippines. This all changed in 1941 when, only days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan invaded and occupied the Philippines, denying the US not only its Navy, but also its access to the critical crop it had recently outlawed. The government created a wartime program to fulfill their hemp needs, and Kentucky was the only state from which they requested seeds. By 1943, more than 52,000 acres of hemp were growing in Kentucky. Immediately following the war, production fell drastically as new, synthetic materials gained popularity in rope making. The passing of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 drove the production of all cannabis into the shadows, but it may have only deepened the Bluegrass State’s relationship with the plant.
The rural folks of Kentucky were no strangers to circumventing the prohibition and restriction of products that had formerly served as legal income. When national alcohol prohibition took effect in 1919, the proud distillers of fine Kentucky Bourbon were left with a trade that had been outlawed and thousands of barrels of liquor that they couldn’t sell. In response, a great many of these craftsmen made a living distilling high-quality moonshine in stills situated in the hollers and hills. When the USDA restricted the amount of tobacco allotted to farmers to the point where they struggled to make ends meet, many of those farmers found ways to grow small plots hidden in out-of-the-way spots on their land to supplement their income. And when cannabis was made illegal, Kentucky farmers put their know-how, hard working ethics, and ingenuity to work, turning our rural state into one of the largest suppliers of the most potent marijuana in the country.
Fast-forward to the present and, despite the archaic cannabis prohibition laws that are unfortunately still being enforced to this very day, I’m proud to say that Kentucky is still playing a vital role in cannabis. Enlighten and our dedicated staff, most of whom are native Kentuckians themselves, have made it our mission to help educate cannabis consumers across the nation. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Kentucky’s elected officials who have helped resurrect the hemp industry, igniting a CBD revolution that has already proven to heal millions across our nation. And last but not least, I hope that this piece serves to pay homage to those great people that work tirelessly every day to educate the public here in Kentucky and to help them understand just how important this plant is to our health and wealth in this state. Hats off to all you fellow Kentucky badasses. It’s a history like this that gives Kentucky the unofficial slogan of “Kentucky Kicks Ass”