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Where Is All the Industrial Hemp We Legalized?

Industrial Hemp

In 2012, Coloradans voted overwhelmingly in favor to legalize cannabis for personal use and to facilitate the growth, processing, and manufacturing of industrial hemp. After two full years of legalization under Amendment 64, recreational dispensaries are everywhere but hemp is yet to make any visible impact on Colorado daily life. Hemp can be processed into fiber, oil, plastics, feedstock, and building material and is seen by many as a sustainable alternative to cotton, corn, lumber, petroleum and other depleting natural resources. Though not widely accessible yet, hemp is set to make a big mark in the Colorado economy. Just a few hurdles are yet to be cleared for industrial hemp to really make a dent in the resource marketplace.

Regulatory framework has been constructed over the last two years to safeguard, or restrict in some people’s view, the hemp industry from the recreational cannabis industry by defining it with state-wide legal standards. For that reason some hemp enthusiasts are pinpointing where policy needs to expand to allow free enterprise to bloom.

Shawn Coleman is one such advocate and has lobbied on behalf of the industry at the State Capitol since the drafting of Amendment 64. When asked about the apparent lack of hemp in the state two years after legalization, Coleman said, “Seed is the biggest obstacle. We also need to move manufacturing to Colorado because [hemp] can only leave the state already processed. But be sure that farmers all across the state are growing hemp.” Because hemp is not legalized in states surrounding Colorado it is impossible, by law, to transport any unprocessed plant material. This hinders cooperative partnerships with businesses abroad because not only does hemp need to be grown and harvested in Colorado but every step of processing must be done in-state as well.

One obstacle to acquiring viable and legal hemp seed is the restriction on THC/CBD ratios. In Colorado, any cannabis plant with more than 0.30% THC is considered a drug, whereas anything below that threshold is legal for industrial hemp production. Other states like Washington and California define that threshold to be 1.00% THC. The United Nations however defines any plant with more CBD than THC to be “fiber type” or industrial hemp, and anything with  more THC than CBD is considered “drug type”. Commercial hemp networks worldwide then operate with greater attention towards manufacturing goods and growing the economy than simply eliminating THC from their source material.

Jason Lauve, from the Hemp Cleans organization, was recently interviewed on Colorado independent community radio, KGNU, about where hemp stands now that cannabis is legalized. Another longtime advocate of cannabis as a nutritional and industrial power plant, Lauve describes another setback for hemp in Colorado, “We have the excitement from the farmers. We have the products being developed… We see foods and beverages, soaps and cosmetics, the list goes on. The missing piece is really the investment component….We’re still not in that consumer arena. The University of Colorado would benefit from doing an economic survey of the potential of industrial hemp, not only in Colorado but across the country. That would really give a foundation for investors to look at what that potential is.”

Colorado farmers and fledgling entrepreneurs are reaching out to social media and are organizing conventions to facilitate the sharing of legal hemp seed. One such group on Facebook is the Colorado Industrial Hemp Association. When asked where the general public may access hemp seed, the Association replied, “Most Colorado farmers saved their seed from 2014 to plant this year and plan to have seed available in 2016.” For those trying to get into the burgeoning industry, The Northern Colorado Hemp Expo on April 4 in Loveland is open to the pubic and is a great way to meet some of the leaders in the hemp industry. Find more about this event and more like it by searching for Colorado Hemp Company on Facebook.

The most advanced development in hemp processing has been the expeller pressed oil industry. Realm of Caring, a Colorado founded company, famous for their Charlotte’s Web CBD products, is paving the way for industrial hemp derived CBD oil which the company now markets as available in all 50 states based on its less than 0.30% THC level. Fiber processing facilities are being built in eastern Colorado to accommodate the demand for animal bedding, petroleum clean-up absorption products, erosion borders and the like. Additionally, Vega Biofuels intends to invest in testing hemp as a source for biocoal, which is considered renewable energy when developed from sustainable sources. Thus, it is beyond speculation and is increasingly clear to predict that Colorado will host more investment in the near future as viable and legal seed becomes more widely accessible.

The fact remains, though, that Colorado is years ahead of many surrounding states. Medical cannabis has only now been preliminarily approved in New Mexico and Arizona, and other neighbors like Oklahoma and Nebraska are currently trying to reverse legalization in Colorado via lawsuit. Just as Colorado legalized medical cannabis purchases years prior to legalizing hemp, so too will it take a decade or more for surrounding states to be on the same level, lest there be a decisive move from Congress in D.C. to federally legalize cannabis. Therefore, Colorado is well positioned to create the foothold for an industry poised to advance on a national level as demand for sustainable products and infrastructure increases across the country.

By: Richard Klassen