A bill to register hemp farmers with the state has been approved by lawmakers. Now all it needs is the governor's signature before a nine-member committee can begin assisting the Department of Agriculture in developing a process that will allow the good people of Colorado to engage in widespread planting.
"It feels really, really great," says advocate Lynda Parker, who was featured in our cover story, "Green Acres," about the the legalization of hemp in Colorado, which was made possible by Amendment 64.
"My goal has been to see Colorado hemp farmers put seeds in the ground without interference from the federal government," adds Parker, a retired Yellow Pages saleswoman who believes in the fibrous plant's potential to serve as a healthy, environmentally-friendly source of food, fiber, fuel and more.
"We're not quite there," she concedes. "In a couple of months, we'll know whether the second half of that sentence comes true or not. ... Once the harvest happens and we see no DEA agents, then my goal will have been accomplished."
Hemp, and the THC-laden marijuana, are still illegal at the federal level. The Controlled Substances Act classifies both hemp and pot -- collectively referred to in the law as Cannabis sativa -- as Schedule I drugs. Thus far, the feds have been silent on how they'll react to cannabis growth and use in states like Colorado that have legalized it.
The hemp bill, known as SB 241, specifies that farmers wishing to grow hemp must submit an application that includes the GPS coordinates and a map of the land on which they plan to grow. They would also be required to pay a fee, to verify that their crop would have a THC concentration of no more than three-tenths of one percent and demonstrate that they have "entered into a purchase agreement with an in-state industrial hemp producer."
It also specifies that "the commissioner shall adopt rules by March 1, 2014."
Farmers who don't want to wait can grow up to ten acres right away under the auspices of a hemp phytoremediation study approved by lawmakers last year. The first-of-its-kind study seeks to find out whether industrial hemp can remove pollutants, such as metals and pesticides, from contaminated water and soil in order to make the soil "more conducive to crop production."
On Sunday, Parker and a fellow advocate plan to drive to southeast Colorado so they can be there on Monday morning when farmer Ryan Loflin puts his first hemp plants into the ground. Loflin, the president of Rocky Mountain Hemp, Inc., has been growing the plants indoors and plans to transplant about half an acre of them onto land owned by his family.
He says his plants will be "the first little established commercial crop" in Colorado. (Farmer and advocate Mike Bowman had hoped to be the first to plant hemp -- on Willie Nelson's April 30 birthday, no less -- but Parker says he hasn't done so yet. We contacted Bowman about his plans and will post something if and when he gets back to us.)
"As soon as this became an option in Colorado, I started heavily pursuing it," says Loflin. He hopes to eventually plant up to 75 acres and to build a 32,000-square-foot "state-of-the-art hemp processing facility" that will turn the plants into nutritious powdered hemp protein. "Eventually, it'll be added into processed foods," Loflin explains.
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While he says he understands the risks of growing a plant that's still considered illegal by the federal government out in the open, Loflin says it's worth it to be the first to plant hemp in the state. "It's my crazy competitive nature," he says with a chuckle.
More from our Marijuana archives: "Marijuana: David Lane will sue over new rule treating pot magazines like porn."Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org