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‘SOTC’: Hemp’s Comeback In Kentucky

Posted: 2:11 PM, Apr 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-28 14:12:14-04

(LEX 18) — At one time Kentucky was the greatest producer of hemp in the United States, but that changed decades ago when the industry went nearly dormant.

Now hemp is undergoing a renaissance across the country, and the commonwealth is at the forefront once again, and two area businesses are in the middle of it all.

“The CBD oils … you see on the shelves today are derived from it,” Bill Hilliard of Atalo Holdings said, displaying a hemp flower. “This material is where it starts.”

It may not look like much, but this hemp flower brings in a lot of the other kind of green for Hilliard these days.

His Winchester-based company is among Kentucky’s biggest industrial hemp producers — and it’s poised to become much bigger.

“So we’re growing from a 6,000-square-foot building, where our primary fulfillment and work was, into a 50,000-square-foot building,” Hilliard said.

It’s a far cry from five years ago, when Atalo Holdings was among only six Kentucky businesses allowed to grow industrial hemp.

Prior to that, it was illegal. But the 2014 Farm Bill changed that.

Before long, Atalo Holding’s modest two-farmer and 23-acre setup grew to what it is now: more than 100 farmers working 2,000 acres.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Hilliard. “It’s just exploded since the passage of that bill.”

That success is due in large part to products involving cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD.

“We’ve definitely seen a growth,” said Adriane Polyniak, co-owner of Bluegrass Hemp Oil. “We ship all over the state. We have people coming to our store from all over the state.”

Polyniak’s Lexington-based business sells CBD oils, capsules, bath bombs and much more. Products with the extract are exploding in popularity, largely based on claims of its calming effects and health benefits … all without the intoxicating THC found in marijuana.

“It’s definitely expanding, and we’re seeing it mostly from a lot of new businesses coming into the market,” said Polyniak.

Last year, U.S. retail sales for CBD products were estimated at $600 million to $2 billion. And experts estimate that will grow to $16 billion by 2025.

But with that growth, Polyniak said, one fear is some companies will cut corners to make cheaper, and less effective, products. She notes there currently are no federal regulations requiring companies to test for CBD.

While there is some dispute regarding the purported health benefits of CBD, Polyniak believes this is far from a health fad.

“I really do think it’s something sustainable,” she said. “I think as long as customers have access to high-quality CBD extract they’re going to see the improvements in quality of life they are looking for.”