Colorado, USDA Finally Agree on State Hemp Plan

Courtesy of the State of Colorado
Governor Jared Polis tours Wright-Oaks Farms, home to a hemp pilot project between Patagonia and the State of Colorado.
The feds have finally approved Colorado's hemp plan, and Willie Nelson is pumped.

When the federal government legalized industrial hemp farming in 2018, the law doing so required that states approve hemp cultivation and create their own administrative programs. The Colorado Department of Agriculture had already started its own hemp-farming program in 2014, the year that legal recreational marijuana sales started in the state, but it still had to tweak its hemp-farming rules to conform with U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.

On August 10, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced that the USDA had approved the CDA's tweaked hemp regulations, after more than a year of negotiating.

State officials, hemp farmers and businesses started poking the USDA several years ago, complaining about what they said were overly burdensome regulations. Among other things, hemp farmers and state lawmakers pushed back against the Drug Enforcement Administration's involvement in hemp testing, as well as rules demanding the destruction of any hemp that tested above the federal limit of 0.3 percent THC.

While the CDA's hemp plan doesn't eliminate the DEA's role — all state hemp farms will be required to be tested by DEA-certified labs by 2022 (around 35 percent of farms were randomly tested in 2020 under the CDA's preferred method) — the USDA will allow hemp that tests above 0.3 percent THC to be remediated for further use before destruction.

The USDA had rejected Colorado's first draft of proposed hemp rules in 2020, but during the announcement of the new rules, Polis and CDA commissioner Kate Greenberg called the compromise a win. Colorado's plan is a "model for the country," the governor said.

"Hemp is a versatile crop, an economic engine that supports jobs and our agriculture industry. We look forward to seeing how hemp can be further developed for fuel, food and other uses while being a source of revenue for family farms," he added.

Even Willie Nelson got in on the congratulatory action. The country singer and cannabis entrepreneur, whose hemp company sources material from Colorado farms, sent an announcement to the CDA praising the news.

“Colorado should be proud of leading the charge for the hemp industry. There are many ways that this crop can benefit both small, family farmers and Americans in their everyday lives," Nelson said. "From textiles and feed to fuel and plastics, hemp is the answer."

Colorado had built an early lead in hemp production over the rest of the country, thanks to its farming head start, but some of that momentum waned in 2020. After reaching nearly 2,000 registered hemp farmers and over 84,000 registered acres in 2019, the numbers dropped to 981 registered hemp farmers and just over 36,000 registered acres last year, according to CDA data.

Polis has implemented tax incentives and business development programs to attract more hemp businesses to Colorado, but an over-supply of hemp and CBD — a popular derivative of hemp that has also tailed off in popularity — led the industry to depend more on companies that work with fibrous hemp, such as textile, grain and bioplastic products.

Last year, his administration unveiled a pilot program between Patagonia and the State of Colorado, with a San Luis Valley farm growing hemp for the outerwear company that will eventually become fabric.