The Colorado Department of Agriculture is seeking committee members to help steer the upcoming state Hemp Center of Excellence. Created by a 2018 bill, the CDA's Hemp Center of Excellence is intended to help direct U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved research, outreach and educational efforts in the state's hemp industry.
According to the CDA, the panel will assist the department and a third-party management contractor in the "development of the organizational structure and a five-year strategic plan" for the new Hemp Center. The bill establishing the Hemp Center also required that the CDA select a third party to manage the center's launch and early strategic planning. That committee ultimately chose MPG Consulting (formerly Marijuana Policy Group), which had been better known for policy work regarding state-legal marijuana than industrial hemp.
A faction of the Colorado hemp industry protested MPG's selection, pointing to the outfit's alleged lack of experience and problems with inthe CDA's selection process; several competing bidders for the contract filed protests and appeals in Denver District Court. The only successful complaint, filed last year by BoCo Farms and owner Grant Orvis, argued that Ean Seeb, the governor's marijuana policy advisor and a member of the Hemp Center contract selection committee, had a conflict of interest regarding MPG director Adam Orens.
Seeb had notified the CDA that he and Orens had a professional relationship dating back to Seeb's time in the private sector, and he was allowed to remain on the selection committee. After the contract was awarded MPG, Orens pointed to his company's experience in running similar state research and industry centers, and said that the MPG doesn't have plans to continue with the Hemp Center beyond this project.
The protests only delayed the state's seconding the outcome; in January, the CDA announced that MPG had once again been selected to run the Hemp Center after another selection process, this round without Seeb. Orvis filed another protest over the latest decision, citing objections to the ethics of the selection process, but that was denied, according to Orvis, who says he may appeal the decision in Denver District Court. Frank Robison, an attorney specializing in hemp and another bidder for the Hemp Center contract, says he may file another appeal in Denver District Court over the CDA's decision, too.
Neither of the two men has decided whether to apply for the CDA's new committee, although both wonder if the department is trying to pull volunteer work from more experienced members of the hemp industry.
"[What's] funny about that group is that their deliverables are exactly what the contractor is supposed to do. So it now appears that the contractor is going to get paid, and the committee is going to do all the work," Orvis says.
The CDA is now accepting applications for the committee. According to the criteria, candidates should be "well connected with the hemp industry sector they represent and able to gather stakeholder input in an unbiased fashion" while attending meetings through June 2021. Applications to join the committee will be accepted through February 15, according to the CDA.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.