Hemp symposium tonight in Loveland to cover growing it, selling it and what to expect

Thanks to Amendment 64, industrial hemp is on its way to becoming a legitimate crop in Colorado.

Tonight in Loveland, hemp industry bigwigs will gather to discuss how hemp is grown and processed, the market for the crop and what farmers interested in growing it can expect. (For instance, hemp does require water to grow, despite Internet legends.)

The event is open to the public and costs $15 to attend. We caught up with two of the speakers to talk about the need for such a forum and hemp's future in Colorado.

Anndrea Hermann is president of the Hemp Industries Association, a California-based trade organization. A cannabis consultant who spends time in both the United States and Canada, which legalized hemp in 1998, Hermann will be speaking tonight about the agronomics of hemp, including planting, seed cleaning and water usage.

"We're bringing the event to Colorado because we, as an association, saw the importance of the energy that's happening here," says Hermann. "We were getting a lot of inquiries from actual farmers that were really interested in knowing about cultivation issues and processors wanting to know, 'How does this work?'"

As we explained in our recent cover story, "Green Acres," a small but dedicated group of Coloradans has been working to establish an industry here. Tonight's symposium will allow potential hemp farmers and processors to hear from people with real-life experience dealing in hemp, including some locals. Summer Star of EnviroTextiles, a leading hemp fabric importer and manufacturer in Glenwood Springs, will be on hand, as will state Senator Gail Schwartz, who plans to sponsor a bill this year that would create hemp-farming regulations and a process to register hemp farmers with the state.

David Bronner, the president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which imports over $100,000 of hemp oil from Canada to use in its soaps each year, will also be at the symposium to talk about the market for hemp products -- especially food and body-care products. (Hemp can also be used to make building materials, animal bedding, fabrics and other products.)

Hemp, he explains, is one of the few plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits. Since our bodies don't produce essential fatty acids, they must be obtained through our diets. The other major source is fish but, Bronner says, "the problem with fish is you're getting trace mercury and other environmental contaminants." Hemp foods such as non-dairy hemp milk are a healthier alternative, he says.

Omega 3 fatty acids are also good for your skin, Bronner says. One of the main signs of a deficiency is dry, flaky skin, he explains, and using hemp oil soap helps. "We've grown ten times in the last ten years and there's a lot of reasons for that, but the hemp seed oil addition has been a major factor," Bronner says. "We improved the formula."

Continue for more about tonight's hemp symposium. The fact that hemp food products are now sold at mainstream stores such as Costco signals "a wave of cultural acceptance around cannabis," Bronner notes. "The whole controversy is rapidly dissipating. It's like poppy seed bagels. No one associates poppy seed bagels with opium. Industrial hemp is a non-drug agricultural crop.... We've cut out American farmers by refusing to get over our reefer madness, but it's finally happening."

However, both he and Hermann say that in order to really kick-start an industrial hemp industry in the United States, the federal government needs to decriminalize hemp. Since 1970, all cannabis -- of which hemp is a variety, though it contains little to no THC -- has been classified as a Schedule I drug in the federal Controlled Substances Act. Two bills in Congress, one in the House and one in the Senate, seek to do just that, and Bronner and Hermann point out that they're gaining support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Mick McAllister, the communications director for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which is sponsoring tonight's event, says the union is also supportive of decriminalizing industrial hemp. However, he says, individual farmers are still wary of the crop given its federal status -- and rightfully so. "We think this is a crop we should be promoting," he says. "Our big concern is that the USDA has said categorically that if you are in violation of federal law, then you are ineligible for USDA programs," including crop insurance.

By ensuring that hemp is legal on all levels, "we could be solving problems for farmers across the state by allowing them to plant a crop that produces seed oil, that produces fiber, that has a high novelty value," he adds. "It doesn't make sense that we can't grow it."

At least one Colorado farmer, Mike Bowman, has announced his intention to grow hemp this spring whether or not it's still illegal at the federal level. Bronner thinks that sort of civil disobedience could be just what hemp needs. "If a farmer were to actually do it, they would call the bluff of the whole charade," he says. Should the federal Drug Enforcement Administration make a fuss, he adds, "it would be so ridiculous that it would...create a firestorm that would also lead to the end of the prohibition of industrial hemp farming."

Tonight's event will be held at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland from 6 to 9:30 p.m.

Continue to see a flyer for the hemp event, which contains more details.

2013 Colorado Industrial Hemp Farming Symposium

More from our Follow That Story archives: "Top ten hemp legends: Which myths are true -- and which went up in smoke?"

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
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