Colo. hemp farming entering ‘exciting new world’
October 25, 2013
Along with recreational marijuana, hemp has its own place in the historic pot legalization law passed by voters last November.
Amendment 64 also allows farmers to plant industrial hemp.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers authorized the formation of a nine-person advisory board to come up with rules that the Colorado Department of Agriculture can use to regulate the nascent industry.
The group, known as the Industrial Hemp Regulatory Committee, includes Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, Boulder seed farmer Ben Holmes and Broomfield agricultural cartographer Chad Pfitzer. They recently wrapped up their work hammering out rules for the hemp side of cannabis legalization. Those rules will open up for public comment in the coming weeks before being adopted by the state.
"What's terrific about this is a lot of credible people will tell you that there are industrial uses for this," Garnett said. "And you can farm it, it's going to help the economy, and it will create some jobs."
Hemp, the non-drug variety of the cannabis plant, has been used for myriad purposes going back decades. Its long and strong fibers can be turned into rope and fabric, its seeds can be crushed for oil and flour and put into all sorts of foods and beverages, while its oil is often used as a supplement in soaps, shampoos and moisturizers.
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But hemp got caught up in this country's prohibition on marijuana and remains illegal at the federal level to grow, despite the fact that hemp's THC content is nowhere near what someone would need to get high.
Garnett said the regulatory committee he served on looked at ways to make sure law enforcement could feel comfortable about hemp farming without being an undue burden on producers. That included setting limits on the amount of THC — the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — in hemp and establishing a registry for farmers so that the plant can be tracked.
"We were looking for ways to see that there can be reasonable regulations that don't interfere with the farmers' ability to grow a cash crop but that they can't grow it to supply it to the black market," he said.
Holmes, a cannabis seed developer in Boulder, said he felt the group struck a good balance between farmers' concerns and those of law enforcement.
"I thought the law enforcement people did a really good job of putting things in perspective," he said.
Holmes, who runs Centennial Seed Distributors, said the meetings were calm and professional, with none of the theatrics associated with the state's marijuana task force assembled by Gov. John Hickenlooper earlier this year.
He said it will take a while to establish a robust hemp seed library in Colorado and that large-scale growing of the plant won't occur for a few years.
"The early growers will be novelty growers," he said. "But right now it's all about making seed. Right now the industry has no seed."
The hemp seed strains that he gets from Europe and Canada will kick things off until Holmes can produce about a kilogram of local seed for the next round of planting. He will repeat that process for the next couple of seasons.
"I'll keep planting until I get enough seed to go industrial," he said.
Holmes envisions a "culture of innovation" springing up in Colorado when it comes to the development of seed strains that lead to cutting-edge products, akin to the creative energy captured by entrepreneurs heading up Internet startups in Colorado in the late 1990s.
"Colorado is prime for this," Holmes said. "It's one of those crops that scales beautifully."
Veronica Carpio, who once owned a cannabis-themed tea shop in Lafayette and now makes wholesale coffee and iced tea from ground hemp seeds, said the legalization of hemp in Colorado represents and "exciting new world."
"This is a super important part of Amendment 64. I don't think people realized hemp is now legal in Colorado," she said. "There will be new job opportunities, new farming opportunities and new research and development into the health benefits of hemp."
Carpio said hemp provides a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber when added to food and drink, while at the same time not overwhelming the flavor of the food product.
"Some people say they don't taste anything — some people say it's just a nutty flavor," Carpio said.
She has such faith in hemp as a food additive, she plans to start up a hemp mobile next summer that will serve up hemp pancakes, hemp bread, hemp potato chips, hemp nachos, hemp pulled pork and hemp chocolate.
"I can infuse anything with hemp seed oil or hemp seed protein powder," she said. "I do think Boulder County will embrace hemp." ❖
John Aguilar is a staff writer for the Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera.