Hemp farmers can now register with the state to grow the crop

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Hemp farmers can now register with the Colorado Department of Agriculture to become sanctioned growers of the long-outlawed crop. The registration officially opened on March 1, a Saturday -- and this is the first business day that hemp registration is, well, open for business. But the state agriculture department wants would-be hemp producers to understand that there are "uncertainties" involved, since hemp is still illegal under federal law.

Here's an excerpt from the department's cautionary press release:

The following issues may cause concern for those interested in growing this crop in Colorado. It is important that potential registrants are aware of these issues and understand the potential risks.

Seed Procurement/Seed Quality. Seed that exists in Colorado may be variable and have unknown THC levels. Random sampling of hemp fields will be conducted. Plant samples testing at levels higher than 0.3 percent THC will be in violation of the Colorado Industrial Hemp Registration and Production Act. Importation of viable industrial hemp seed across state lines and country boundaries is illegal under the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

Pesticides. There are not any pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc.) currently registered for use on Cannabis spp. (industrial hemp and marijuana) due to the predominant federal nature of pesticide regulation. The CDA is putting together a list of pesticides that could be used on Cannabis spp. and not constitute a violation of pesticide labeling or other federal and state pesticide laws and regulations. This list will be extremely limited.

Federal Farm Programs. Programs such as crop insurance, farm loans and conservation reserve may be jeopardized if industrial hemp is planted. These programs are managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a federal agency. Contact a lawyer for legal advice.

Banking. Even though the Departments of Justice and Treasury recently issued guidance on bank involvement with cannabis operations, banks, including state-chartered banks, may be reluctant to provide services to cannabis growers for fear of being prosecuted for federal law and regulation violations.

Processing. Industrial hemp must be processed prior to shipment out of Colorado. Colorado's industrial hemp rules state that industrial hemp producers must provide documentation of in-state processing as part of registration. It is unknown at this time how many processing facilities will be available in Colorado at time of harvest.

"We're certainly excited about getting the program underway. It has great potential for the state," says deputy agriculture commissioner Ron Carleton. "But the reality is there are some challenges and some issues.... We just want to be sure that everybody is fully informed and has as much information as we have about some of these challenges."

Producers have until May 1 to register if they'd like to grow hemp during the 2014 growing season. The registration form can be found on the Colorado Department of Agriculture website. (You can also view a copy below.) The registration fee for growing commercial hemp is $200 plus $1 per acrem and the fee for growing hemp for research and development is $100 plus $5 an acre. (Research and development plots are limited to ten acres or less.) The fees must be paid up front and the registrations are valid for one year.

For more on the state's industrial hemp regulations -- including details about how the crops will be tested for THC -- read our previous post about Colorado's final hemp rules.

Carleton says he's not making any predictions about how many hemp producers will register this first year. While he says the department has gotten a lot of inquiries about growing hemp, "it's hard to know how many of those expressions of interest will translate into real applications. This is something that's so new and so novel for us that I'm just going to wait and watch and see what comes in the door."

He also warns against drawing too many conclusions from this inaugural growing season, emphasizing that building Colorado's industrial hemp program will take time. "I don't want people to measure the success of the program on the first year alone," he says. "I have high hopes and expectations for the success of the program, but it will take us three to five years to see this thing really blossom, both in terms of applying the lessons we've learned on the registration and expectation side, but also on the development of processing facilities and seeing the industry mature a little bit."

See the registration form below.

Industrial Hemp Registration Application

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Hemp: Read final regulations for growing industrial hemp in Colorado."

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

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