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Hemp: Meet the members of the advisory committee working on farming regulations

Before Colorado farmers can plant industrial hemp, the state Department of Agriculture must come up with a way to register and inspect their crops. To help establish those regulations, lawmakers authorized the creation of a nine-member advisory committee.

The members of that committee have been chosen, and the group met for the first time in mid-July. Farmer-turned-political-activist Mike Bowman was there and we caught up with him about the group's progress.

Bowman, who is a member, has high hopes for the group, which was assembled by the state lawmakers who sponsored the bill that created it. At the committee's first meeting on July 18, Bowman says the members introduced themselves, explained their interest in the issue and then got down to business.

"We spent the balance of the afternoon going through the particulars of what we were charged to do by the legislature," Bowman says. The result, he says, was a working document outlining what a registration and inspection process might look like.

"We want to have a very streamlined process that's transparent and puts enough boundaries around it that we aren't going to be challenged by the feds as a program lacking in oversight," Bowman says. (Although hemp contains little to none of the psychoactive ingredient THC found in its sister plant, marijuana, the federal government does not distinguish between the two. Both are illegal at the federal level.)

"This shouldn't be onerous," Bowman adds, "but it should be stringent enough that we satisfy the letter of the law. I'm convinced after one day in the room with this group that that is exactly the balance that we will find."

Bowman comes from a family of farmers who currently grow corn, wheat and a rotation of niche crops in the eastern Colorado city of Wray. He became interested in hemp after reading about North Dakota's long-running fight to grow the outlawed crop. In 2006, he connected with other Colorado hemp activists, and he now splits his time between his home state and Washington, D.C., where he advocates for environmental issues.

He's proud that Colorado is on the leading edge of industrial hemp legalization. It started with last year's pot-centric Amendment 64, which also directed the state legislature to "enact legislation governing the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp" by July 1, 2014. Lawmakers beat that deadline in May when they approved the bill that created the advisory committee and gave the Department of Agriculture until March 1, 2014 to come up with a process to register hemp farmers.

The passage of that bill caused much celebration among eager farmers -- and a considerable amount of confusion. Deputy agriculture commissioner Ron Carleton cleared up any misunderstanding with a statement issued in late May:

The legislature, the statement says, "has made it clear that cultivation, for either commercial or research and development purposes, is not authorized unless the prospective grower first registers with the Department. That will not be possible until early 2014 as we do not expect the registration program to be in place before then."

Bowman admits that the committee's deadline is tight, especially since the regulations will be subject to public input before they're finalized. But he's ready to put in the work. "Here we are, making history," he says. "We have a great group working on it."

So who are these history-makers?

Continue to read about the members of the hemp advisory committee.

The nine members of the advisory committee are:

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett

Garnett has said he's "committed to having the most progressive approach to medical marijuana of any DA's office in the state." And he's put his money where his mouth is, even telling the feds to back off Boulder's medical marijuana dispensaries. But he wasn't always so progressive. In fact, his office was one of the first to prosecute a medical marijuana patient for having too much weed. That patient, Jason Lauve, was acquitted -- and has gone on to become an advocate for hemp, as well as medical marijuana. Below, watch a video of Lauve asking Garnett about the case.

Ben Holmes, seed development and genetics

Holmes is a horticultural wizard whose cannabis seed business, Centennial Seed Distributors, was effectively quashed by a letter from the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division clarifying that state law requires seed production to be done by marijuana dispensaries -- and not by separate companies like his. But though he may have lost that business, Holmes didn't lose his green thumb. He's been working on cultivating hemp seeds since getting involved with Colorado's industrial hemp phytoremediation study, a first-of-its-kind research endeavor authorized by lawmakers in 2012.

Chad Pfitzer, citizen advocate

Pfitzer owns Redtail Cartography, an agricultural mapping business in Broomfield. He testified in favor of the bill that created the commission. The Associated Press quoted him as saying that Colorado farmers could do for hemp what George Washington Carver did for the peanut: "We can take industrial hemp to the next level."

Troy Bauder of Colorado State University, research institution

Bauder's bio on the CSU website describes him as a water quality specialist focused on preventing ground water contamination due to the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Deputy Attorney General David Blake

Blake's full title is deputy attorney general for legal policy and government affairs. A press release about his appointment, says Blake "is responsible for working with state lawmakers and other state officials on issues of interest to the Office of the Attorney General."

Michael Bowman, commercial farmer

Alfonzo Abeyta, hemp farmer from a cooperative

Bowman says Abeyta is a farmer from the San Luis Valley.

Ed Lehrburger of PureVision Technology, hemp manufacturing industry

Here's a description of what PureVision Technology does, courtesy of its website: "PureVision has developed a unique process to extract the carbon-derived sugars and lignin stored in plants to produce a myriad of renewable and carbon-neutral products."

Tracy Shogren of The Hemp Store, hemp small business

The Hemp Store in Manitou Springs "is the only store in Colorado dedicated to hemp!," its Facebook page says. "Everything is related to hemp in some way, from colored hemp twine and hemp necklaces to hemp clothing and food. We also have a wide selection of locally crafted glass pipes, and some classic hippie rock tour posters from bands like The Beatles, the Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones."

The advisory committee's next meeting is scheduled for August 14.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Team Hemp House launches drive to build first Colorado house made of hemp products."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com


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