Colorado opens door to new crop: Industrial hemp

Hemp Farming Act gaining support in Congress

Photo courtesy of Vote Hemp

A hemp field in Canada comes into maturity. Hemp is used for industrial products and does well in arid climates like the Southwest. Efforts are underway to de-regulate the plant at the federal level where it is still banned. Enlargephoto

Photo courtesy of Vote Hemp A hemp field in Canada comes into maturity. Hemp is used for industrial products and does well in arid climates like the Southwest. Efforts are underway to de-regulate the plant at the federal level where it is still banned.

Colorado’s Amendment 64 allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp, a strain of cannabis that is used to make clothing, paper, rope, fuels, even car parts, among other products.

Hemp is identified by its 3/10 of one percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient more known for hemp’s genetic cousin, marijuana, which boasts up to 15 percent THC and is popular for pain relief and recreational use.

The fibrous stalk of hemp and its oils provide its industrial strength and versatility, natural qualities that make it a more common replacement for the use of plastic in manufacturing.

But because hemp is in the family of cannabis, it is still regulated by the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency at the same criminal level of the high-inducing marijuana.

A national attempt to exempt hemp from the Controlled Substances Act enforced by the DEA is moving ahead on two fronts, explained Vote Hemp president Eric Streenstra.

“Colorado has legalized hemp, and the state department of ag is issuing permits to grow, what has to happen now is at the federal level,” he said.

A bill, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013, is gaining support in Congress, and has bipartisan support.

“It reclassifies hemp as distinct from marijuana therefore drops it from regulation under the Controlled Substances Act,” Streenstra explained. “It has excellent support from key leadership. In Colorado we are waiting support from Senators Bennet and Udall and hope they step up.”

On another front, hemp is being deregulated to allow for crop research at universities.

An amendment to the U.S. Farm Bill would exempt hemp from requiring a DEA permit if it is being grown for research purposes. Currently, the DEA rarely gives out the permit.

The move is seen as a significant victory by hemp supporters because it provides opportunity for critical research for hemp, a new crop that does not have developed seeds and strains appropriate for U.S. climates.

“It is the first vote we have had in the modern era that deregulates hemp at the federal level,” Streenstra said. “It passed as an amendment on the House side of the Farm Bill with 63 Republicans and 162 Democrats. Now we are lobbying for it to survive through the conference process and emerge intact when the Farm Bill is passed.”

On January 14 The American Farm Bureau Federation announced its support for hemp deregulation at the federal level.

The farm bureau passed a resolution stating “We oppose the classification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance.”

“We support the declassification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance because of the opportunity that is provides farmers to diversify and share in a new market opportunity,” said Kyle Cline, a policy advisor with the farm bureau. “Furthermore, industrial hemp will allow the U.S. farmer to share in income that is currently going overseas. Right now it is legal to import hemp, but illegal to produce it.

The U.S. is the world’s number one importer and consumer of hemp, bringing in $500 million in 2012, according to Vote Hemp.

Montezuma, like many counties in Colorado, is in a “wait and see” mode regarding hemp production, said planning director Susan Carver.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture will begin issuing permits this spring allowing Colorado farmers to cultivate and sell hemp crops. How the new state system will play out, especially with federal laws at the moment still banning hemp, is being carefully watched.

Currently Montezuma County has a resolution banning commercial sales of medical marijuana, and recently turned down a proposal by a resident to commercially grow recreational marijuana. The commission has not been supportive of commercial sales of pot, but have indicated it is willing to listen on the possibility of hemp production.

“It is a subject that needs more discussion and education,” Carver said.

jmimiaga@cortezjournal.com