Growing Cannabis in Kentucky

Cannabis cultivation, once heavily restricted and stigmatized, has seen a significant shift in its legal and cultural status across the United States. As states steadily move towards legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use, there’s an increasing interest in its cultivation. One state that has been in the limelight regarding this topic is Kentucky. Historically known for its tobacco farms, Kentucky offers fertile grounds for cannabis cultivation.

Historical Context

Kentucky’s relationship with hemp, a non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana, traces back to the 18th century. By the 19th century, the state was the leading hemp producer in the U.S. It wasn’t until the 20th century, under the influence of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and subsequent regulations, that both hemp and marijuana cultivation faced severe restrictions. However, with the U.S. Farm Bill of 2018, hemp cultivation was federally legalized, setting the stage for a revival of the industry in states like Kentucky.

Climate and Soil Conditions

Kentucky’s climate is classified as humid subtropical, which is characterized by four distinct seasons with a blend of cold winters and hot, humid summers. This climate, coupled with the state’s rich, loamy soil, offers a conducive environment for cannabis cultivation.

  • Soil: Kentucky’s soil is primarily loamy, which means it has a balanced mixture of sand, silt, and clay. Loamy soil offers excellent drainage, essential for preventing root rot in cannabis plants. It also retains moisture well and provides good aeration, promoting robust root growth.
  • Temperature: Cannabis generally requires a temperature between 70-85°F (20-30°C) during the day. Nighttime temperatures should not drop below 50°F (10°C) during the growing phase. Kentucky’s summer months align well with these requirements, though growers should be attentive to temperature fluctuations, especially during spring and fall.
  • Photoperiod: As a short-day plant, cannabis begins flowering when the days start to shorten. In Kentucky, outdoor growers can expect the flowering phase to commence as the days shorten after the summer solstice.

Legal Considerations

While hemp cultivation is federally legal and thriving in Kentucky, the legal status of marijuana – both for medical and recreational purposes – remains a topic of discussion and evolution. As of the last update in 2021:

  • Hemp Cultivation: Growers can legally cultivate hemp in Kentucky, but they must obtain a license from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. They also must ensure that the THC content of their hemp plants does not exceed 0.3%. Any crop that tests higher is considered marijuana under federal law and must be destroyed.
  • Medical Cannabis: Despite numerous legislative attempts, medical cannabis remains illegal in Kentucky. However, there’s growing support among Kentuckians for its legalization, and future changes to the law are possible.
  • Recreational Cannabis: Kentucky has not legalized recreational cannabis. Possession of small amounts has been decriminalized in some cities, but statewide, possession remains illegal and can lead to criminal penalties.

Best Practices for Cultivation

For those interested in hemp cultivation in Kentucky, some best practices can optimize yield and plant health:

  • Seed Selection: Begin with certified seeds or clones to ensure low THC content and high CBD yield. Opt for strains known for their resilience to pests and diseases common in the region.
  • Spacing: Allow adequate space between plants to prevent mold and mildew, which can thrive in Kentucky’s humid climate. This spacing also ensures each plant gets adequate sunlight.
  • Irrigation: While Kentucky receives a substantial amount of rainfall, supplementary irrigation might be necessary during dry spells. Drip irrigation systems are preferable to prevent waterlogging.
  • Pest and Disease Management: Regularly inspect plants for signs of pests and diseases. Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and beneficial insects like ladybugs can help manage common pests without resorting to harmful chemicals.

Economic Implications

The revival of hemp cultivation has brought economic opportunities to Kentucky. As the demand for CBD products and other hemp-derived goods increases, there’s potential for Kentucky to reclaim its title as a leading hemp producer, generating jobs and revenue for the state.

However, the potential economic benefits of fully legalized cannabis, including marijuana for medical and recreational use, are even more significant. States that have legalized cannabis have seen increases in tax revenue, job creation, and tourism.


Kentucky, with its rich agricultural history and conducive climate, is well-positioned to be a significant player in the cannabis industry. While the state’s legal framework around marijuana remains restrictive, the growth and potential of the hemp industry cannot be understated. As laws and perceptions around cannabis continue to evolve, Kentucky might soon see a green revolution, reminiscent of its hemp-dominated past.