Congressman James Comer stood in front of a local hemp harvest stacked shin-deep for hundreds of feet in every direction, a tangled mass of bushy branches that looked more like evergreen trimmings than marijuana buds. Little yellow butterflies flitted across the surface of the crop that filled the once-vacant warehouse with the comforting smell of damp grass clippings.
It was the middle of October, and aromatic plants represented the first harvest for Vertical, a California company that has already become a serious contender in the rapidly expanding legal cannabis industry. Comer, who just won reelection to Congress with 69 percent of the vote, has promoted hemp, the non-psychoactive sister plant to marijuana, as a jobs-creating crop to replace the state’s vanished tobacco industry. Hemp grown for CBD, a medicinal oil used for complaints from arthritis to epilepsy, fetches as much as $8,000 per acre, compared with less than $600 for the same amount of corn. This processing facility, Comer said, will create 125 jobs when Vertical has it fully operational, a not insignificant boost in a town of 2,600 people.