A recent report shows that the state of Kansas once had hundreds of licensed hemp cultivators, but that number has decreased significantly. Numbers for 2023 show that there are only 41 licensed hemp cultivators currently operating in Kansas.
The surge in hemp cultivators was initially caused by the passage of the 2018 Hemp Farm Bill, which prompted over 200 cultivators to apply. Most of those cultivators prioritized CBD hemp oil production, but due to a more recent decrease in production (for health-related use, or as a food product) only 41 cultivators are now licensed.
According to Sarah Stephens, CEO of Kansas-based Midwest Hemp Technology, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a sign of the industrial hemp industry shifting focus to cultivating hemp for fiber or animal feed. “There’s been a reduction in the number of growers and the number of acres on the CBD side,” Stephens told KAKE.com. “But there’s been an increase in the number of growers and number of acres on the fiber and grain side.”
Kansas Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kelsey Olson also shared insight about the shift, explaining that hemp production has declined due to other neighboring states legalizing recreational cannabis. “The landscape has changed over the last few years across the country,” said Olson. “I think that may have shifted some of the use.”
Another Kansas cannabis business owner, Melissa Nelson of South Bend Industrial Hemp, said that she has always focused on growing hemp as a source of fiber. Now, she sees the current trend of using hemp stalks to make animal bedding material, which is stronger than standard straw.
According to Stephens, the hemp industry in Kansas has a lot of paths for expansion, including hemp grain food products. Since most cultivators do not grow hemp for the grain, a lot of hemp grain is imported from Canada. “We have the right landmasses, the right farmer know-how, the right seasons and temperatures to lead in this industry,” Stephens said.
Earlier this year in May, Kansas State University (KSU) architecture students created a hemp structure (which they called the “K-state Hemp Casita”) that was showcased around the state. According to KSU assistant professor Michael Gibson, the house was built over a 16-week period and measured at 10 feet by 7 feet. “We started off the semester passing around a bag of hemp hearts so that the students understood the full range of possibilities with hemp, in other words that it isn’t just like wood or other natural fiber materials,” Gibson added. “[Hemp’s] value as human and animal nutrition, in the CBD industry, and making industrial fibers was an important starting point to understanding why we should be using it more in buildings.”
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelley recently said in June that she had no intention of using her executive power to legalize medical cannabis. “I don’t think I can do that,” Kelley said in June. “I just don’t think that is within my purview. … We’re just going to keep pushing through the legislative process.”
This is a considerable difference in comparison to states like Kentucky for instance, which also doesn’t have legal medical cannabis. However, last year Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order in November 2022 to allow patients with chronic or terminal conditions to use medical cannabis. “With 37 states already legalizing medical cannabis and 90% of Kentucky adults supporting it, I am doing what I can to provide access and relief to those who meet certain conditions and need it to better enjoy their life, without pain,” Beshear said in a statement last year. Although his executive order does not legalize medical cannabis statewide, it does permit patients to purchase medical cannabis in a different state that offers legal medical cannabis.
However, it’s important to note that Gov. Laura Kelly does support medical cannabis overall. “Three out of the four states surrounding Kansas have legalized medical marijuana,” Kelly said on social media. “Legalizing medical marijuana would boost our economy and provide relief to Kansans suffering with severe illnesses.”
Cannabis-related bills have not gained much traction in the legislature. Earlier this year, House Bill 2363 was introduced to decriminalize cannabis throughout Kansas, but it didn’t move forward.
A different bill was tabled by a Kansas Senate Committee in March, which would have allowed doctors to approve medical cannabis products for patients with 21 different medical conditions (including cancer, epilepsy, spinal cord injuries, and chronic pain). “I am disappointed that some legislators are saying they don’t want to move forward with legalizing medical marijuana this year—effectively turning their backs on our veterans and those with chronic pain and seizure disorders,” said Kelley. “If they get their way, for yet another year thousands of Kansans will be forced to choose between breaking the law and living without pain. I encourage Kansans to call their state legislators and tell them to legalize medical marijuana this session.”