Colorado launches into hemp production

Colorado is working through a “history-making” season this year as it struggles to ramp up a hemp-producing machine for growers opting to produce the crop — but not for recreational marijuana sales.

Colorado launches into hemp production

Colorado is working through a “history-making” season this year as it struggles to ramp up a hemp-producing machine for growers opting to produce the crop — but not for recreational marijuana sales.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture set a deadline of May 1 for producers to register the crop. A total of 30 producers signed up, representing 400 acres of production.

“The rest of the country is watching how we work through this history-making season,” says Ron Carleton, CDA deputy commissioner.

Since it is illegal to grow industrial hemp without registering, he urged producers to meet the deadline last month.

“If industrial hemp is grown without registering with the Colorado Department of Agri-culture, law enforcement may be contacted,” he warns.

Key Points

Colorado has registered its hemp producers.

Major challenges remain for the growers.

The U.S. still considers production to be illegal.

Put to vote

Colorado voters legalized some hemp production and research under the same proposition that legalized recreational marijuana production, but that crop comes under the jurisdiction of the state’s justice department, while CDA is responsible for industrial hemp production.

Because a fine line exists between growing industrial hemp and marijuana, the U.S. considers them one and the same. But not so in Colorado, which plans to grow its industrial hemp business as a new crop for farmers to plant.

“We have nothing to do with the marijuana business,” says Carleton of CDA’s role.

THC levels

What’s the difference? Industrial hemp has 0.3% THC — the element that makes marijuana a recreational drug — while pot might run as high as 30% THC, explains Carleton.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabainol, is considered the principal psychoactive ingredient of cannabis plants.

Industrial hemp has thousands of different uses in paper, fabrics, soaps, cosmetics and edibles, so growers have a large field to examine for sales, Carleton says. “Our point is to get industrial hemp to a point where it is like any other agricultural product, and to give farmers another choice of what to plant,”

While the federal government continues to rank marijuana and hemp as one illegal category, many states are moving to act on their own to legalize hemp as a separate business. Oregon is working on regulations at this time, but those rules will not be in place in time for spring planting.

Washington failed to include a hemp clause in its state proposition legalizing recreational marijuana, as did Colorado, and a separate legislative action to legalize hemp failed to pass in Olympia, Wash.

Montana, Indiana, California, Kentucky, Maine, North Dakota, Vermont and Virginia have statutes favoring industrial hemp development, and similar proposals are under consideration in Michigan.

Meanwhile, registered Colorado producers will be certified to grow once their applications are approved by CDA. Certification is necessary before planting can begin, notes Carleton, and is only valid for one year.

Registrant crops are subject to sampling by the department to determine whether the THC concentration exceeds the legal limit of 0.3% on a dry weight basis. A third of the registrants will be inspected every year.

In those inspections, CDA will have unrestricted access to production fields of hemp plants and seeds, whether growing or harvested.

We thank CDA communications director Christi Lightcap for information in this article.

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INDUSTRIAL HEMP: Hemp production is being encouraged throughout the West. The fast-growing crop has thousands of market uses.

This article published in the June, 2014 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

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