LOUISVILLE, Ky. (LEX 18) — For decades, Kentucky's hemp industry sat dormant.
The once-popular crop was outlawed for much of the past century.
But the 2010s saw major changes, including a farm bill that legalized hemp growth once again.
Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles has repeatedly touted the potential of Kentucky as the epicenter of hemp.
"Kentucky can be known for more than just bourbon, horse racing, and Kentucky Fried Chicken around the world. Kentucky now is known for being the comeback state for industrial hemp," said Quarles in 2019.
Kentucky native and journalist Jim Higdon recognized the opportunity and launched his company, Cornbread Hemp.
"This is the future of Kentucky and I feel really honored to be in a position to help Kentucky project outward," said Higdon.
We caught up with Higdon in Louisville at Rainbow Blossom as he launched a new product, a balm, containing the hemp extract CBD. This grocery store has remained open as an essential business but other brick-and-mortar shops that would sell CBD products have not.
"The impact of COVID in our business is that it has really hurt our ability to expand our retail operations because retail has been very flat because people don't want to stay in stores," said Higdon.
2020 was only the company's second full year of existence. The team accelerated its focus on the web marketplace by utilizing social media, and YouTube.
Before the shutdown, Higdon tells us that retail and online sales were about 50/50 for his company. But after the shutdown, he says that ratio has flipped to 90/10 in favor of online. He says in that time, the revenue doubled.
"And we tripled our sales direct-to-consumer in 2020, and really expanded our national reach and our national brand identity by focusing on people who are looking to buy this directly online," said Higdon.
While the soil in Kentucky is fertile for the hemp product, there's still an obstacle for companies: lack of FDA regulations.
"CBD is a cannabinoid that has become popular for lots of reasons, but because the FDA has not issued regulations on CBD. I, as a brand owner, am not allowed to talk about any potential health or wellness benefits of CBD," said Higdon.
Higdon is pessimistic the FDA will take up the issue in 2021. But that's why he says it was important for his company's products to receive the USDA Organic seal.
The industry will continue to grow, but Higdon is hoping Kentucky lawmakers eventually vote to approve the legalization of another product: marijuana.
Republican state Representative Jason Nemes recently filed a new billseeking the legalization of medical marijuana, which has bipartisan support.
A similar bill passed the House in 2020 by a 65-30 vote, but the bill never left the Senate Judiciary Committee once the pandemic hit.