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Colorado celebrated July 4th with a hemp flag flown over the U.S. Capitol

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The nation thanked Colorado for pushing the limits on cannabis law over the past few years — even if the nation didn't know it was doing so — by flying a flag made of hemp over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on July 4.

The flag was made from hemp fiber purchased in Manitou Springs and then printed and sewn in Denver. Representative Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, had brandished the same flag during debate on an amendment that would allow universities to study hemp. "Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities, the greatest in the world, to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity," he said in a statement. "George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. The first American flag was made of hemp. The U.S. Department of Agriculture produced a Hemp for Victory video in 1942. And today, I am proud that an American flag made of hemp will fly over our Capitol on the anniversary of our nation's birth."

A variety of Cannabis sativa, hemp contains little to none of the psychoactive ingredient THC, which is what gets you high. But the plant has many other uses: You can eat it, wear it, even build your house out of it.

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U.S. Capitol

As explained in the March 14, 2013, Westword cover story, "Green Acres," Coloradans paved the way for growing industrial hemp when they passed the otherwise-marijuana-centric Amendment 64 last November. The amendment directed lawmakers 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 a bill to set up a process to register hemp farmers with the state. An advisory committee now has until March 1, 2014, to come up with that process, after which farmers will be able to start growing.

But hemp is still illegal at the federal level — hence Polis's amendment, which was meant to give colleges such as Colorado State University the legal cover they need to grow and study industrial hemp. The amendment passed, but the bill it was attached to — known as the FARRM Act — was defeated last month. A spokeswoman for Polis says the amendment is likely to come back, either attached to another bill or as part of a resurrected farm bill.

Colorado hemp advocate Michael Bowman spends much of his time in Washington, but his family owns a farm in Wray on which he hopes to plant hemp. It was his idea to make and fly the hemp flag.

To do so, he enlisted the help of several local companies, who worked together to make the flag, which has a slightly faded look and therefore a vintage feel to it. Polis, who held it during the debate, agreed to ask for it to be flown above the Capitol. Bowman thinks it's a fitting tribute to hemp.

"It's a symbol of something that used to be illegal and something we need today," he says. "The fact that it would be flying at the Capitol on July 4 is a confluence of conditions that's getting a lot of people's attention."

Scene and herd: At 10 a.m. on Monday, July 15, Mayor Michael Hancock will deliver his annual State of the City address, this time at the Forney Transportation Museum, right by the Denver Coliseum. The Forney was once in the old Tramway building that's now home to the flagship REI store by Confluence Park, which has turned into one of the city's true jewels — and now the Hancock administration has made transforming Brighton Boulevard into a real gateway to downtown one of its top priorities. An updated National Western Stock Show complex figures into those plans, and will likely make an appearance in his speech. But don't look for any announcement that the model-train layouts housed for decades in Union Station are going into the Forney — though that's one of the possibilities that the Platte Valley & Western Model Railroad club has explored since it got the boot from developers ("Model Citizens," April 25). But we're assured there will be plenty about planes, trains and automobiles in the Hancock speech.

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