America's first (known) hemp harvest in more than fifty years began this month in southeastern Colorado. This past spring, following last year's passage of Amendment 64, which legalized small amounts of marijuana for adults and paved the way for industrial hemp production, farmer Ryan Loflin planted 55 acres of marijuana's sober sister. Last week, hemp advocates from across the country came to watch as Loflin and others harvested the first plants by hand.
"It felt very historic," says advocate Lynda Parker.
"We think that, obviously, this is a symbolic first hemp harvest," says Eric Steenstra, the executive director of the Hemp Industries Association.
With the U.S. Department of Justice recently indicating that it won't sue to stop states' marijuana policies, Steenstra predicts farmers in other states will soon follow Loflin's lead. Steenstra is among those who believe the DOJ's pot policy extends to hemp; although hemp contains little to none of the THC found in marijuana, the federal government doesn't distinguish between the two and considers both to be illegal.
"Our eventual hope is to see the full commercialization of hemp," he says.
Loflin has only been able to harvest about a quarter-acre of his plot so far. He was planning to use a combine to harvest the bulk of it, but when he tested that method, he found that the combine destroyed part of the plant in the process. So now he plans to hand-harvest the entire field. That way, he says, he'll even be able to save the roots.
"We're going to try and save the entire plant and do as much as we can," Loflin says.
Since hemp was illegal for so long, there's very little seed available, making the seeds produced by Loflin's plants quite valuable. "We'll save a lot of the seed and replant it next year," says Loflin, who also plans to make a small amount of hemp seed oil.
Loflin says he isn't worried about law enforcement, especially in the wake of the Department of Justice's announcement. "It's time for this to happen," he says.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is currently working on rules for registering hemp farmers with the aim of having them in place by early 2014. Back in May, the department issued a statement clarifying that it's not okay to plant hemp in Colorado until that registration process in in place -- a distinction that didn't stop Loflin.
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The night before the September 23 ceremonial harvest, Loflin hosted a dinner at his farm, complete with hemp food. It was attended by Colorado hemp advocates, as well as national advocates from Vote Hemp, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and the Hemp Industries Association. See photos below from the dinner and of advocates in Loflin's field.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Top ten hemp legends: Which myths are true -- and which went up in smoke?"Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org