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Kentucky gains permit for seeds

LOUISVILLE - Hemp seeds will be sprung from confinement and put in Kentucky soil in coming days after federal drug officials approved a permit Thursday ending a standoff that had imperiled the state's experimental plantings this spring, agriculture officials said.

Kentucky's Agriculture Department expects to receive delivery of the 250-pound shipment of seeds from Italy on Friday, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said.

The state's first hemp plantings in decades could occur as soon as this weekend, he said. "This is a historic day," Comer said. "We've done something that no one thought we could do a year-and-a-half ago. We legalized industrial hemp and we've proven that it's an agricultural crop and not a drug."

Kentucky's eight pilot hemp projects for research were put on hold after the seed shipment was stopped by U.S. customs officials in Louisville earlier this month. The state's Agriculture Department sued the federal government in hopes of freeing the seeds. Growing hemp without a federal permit was banned in 1970 due to its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana.Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Hemp's comeback was spurred by the new federal farm bill, which allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states such as Kentucky that allow hemp growing.

A Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington did not immediately respond to calls and an email seeking comment Thursday.

The breakthrough came a day after attorneys for the state Agriculture Department and federal government discussed the impasse with a federal judge, who helped mediate agreements that led to the permit's issuance.

Kentucky has been at the forefront of efforts to revive the versatile crop, and the lawsuit was closely watched by agriculture officials in other states.

Kentucky agriculture officials said time was of the essence in winning release of the seeds. Any plantings past June 1 would jeopardize research from the test plots, they said. Six universities in the state are helping with research.

Hemp has historically been used for rope but has many other uses: clothing and mulch from the fiber; hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds; and soap and lotions. Comer, a Republican, sees hemp as a potential cash crop for farmers that could produce other jobs in processing the crop.

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