Polis introduces bill easing hemp regulations
What is hemp?
Hemp, a variety of cannabis, is a plant grown for industrial uses and food production. Hemp is closely related to narcotic marijuana but unlike marijuana hemp is not psychoactive and produces no high when ingested.
Hemp is generally considered to be among the first plants cultivated by humans through organized agriculture. Archeological evidence from China shows hemp in use at least as far back as 5,000 BCE. The vast majority of all industrial hemp grown today is grown in China with France also accounting for a significant portion of the global hemp supply.
Hemp is often used to create fibers, fabrics, clothing, rope, paper, food, fuel and more.
Cannabis, more commonly known by its Mexican appellation “marijuana”, has been a hot topic in Colorado for many years now but often lost in the mix of debates about legalization is the place industrial hemp occupies in our regulatory regime.
Hemp is a variety of cannabis but unlike the marijuana sold at our local dispensaries hemp does not produce a “high” if ingested and is instead cultivated for industrial uses such as fiber production, building materials and even food. Despite wide ranging applications though it appears only one entity is growing industrial hemp in Grand County, with growers questioning the viability of the crop in the high country.
Colorado and a dozen other states allow cultivation of industrial hemp, but some farmers, who lease water from the federal government, are prohibited from growing hemp because federal agencies will not allow water they lease to be used for growing controlled substances. The federal government makes no formal distinction between hemp and narcotic cannabis hemp and as such regulates hemp as a controlled substance under the umbrella of narcotic marijuana.
Because of this dynamic farmers who lease water from the federal government cannot grow hemp, even if, like in Colorado, the state allows for legal cultivation. Late last week Jared Polis, Grand County’s Representative in the US House, introduced legislation called The Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act. If approved the bill would ensure owners of water rights obtained from federally controlled waters to grow industrial hemp.
Grand County Commissioner Richard Cimino expressed his own individual feelings regarding the proposal.
“On the surface I am in favor of owners of agricultural water rights using those water rights for whatever they want to use them for,” Cimino said. “If they want to grow hay they can grow hay and if they want to grow hemp they can grow hemp.”
Cimino stressed he was not speaking on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners and that his stance represented his initial thoughts on the proposed legislation, which he had not fully reviewed.
David Michel, General Counsel for recreational marijuana dispensary Igadi in Tabernash, is intimately familiar with federal, state and local regulations for the growing of marijuana but said to the best of his knowledge industrial hemp growing is not regulated or licensed at the county level. According to Michel industrial hemp regulation is under the authority of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
“In the State of Colorado local jurisdictions don’t have authority over this as a land use issue or a licensing issue,” Michel said. “Because industrial hemp is not psychoactive it really falls more under the purview of the farmer. The state’s interest in monitoring the crop is to ensure that what they are growing is in fact industrial hemp and not marijuana, which is psychoactive.”
The state agriculture department’s website states hemp plants can contain no more than 0.3 percent THC to qualify as hemp.
Grand County is certainly not the epicenter of hemp production in Colorado but a few pioneering locals have taken up the crop and are researching agricultural production of the plant. The Grand Colorado Hemp Company is a joint venture owned by Jonas Pearson, Ehren Samuelson and Samuelson’s two parents, with each individual owning a quarter stake in the entity. For the last two years Grand Colorado Hemp Company has set up experimental plots of industrial hemp on the Samuelson’s property, growing in hoop greenhouses and managing a plot roughly 1,500 square feet in size.
Unfortunately though, according to Pearson, Grand County is not the most conducive environment for growing hemp.
“The cold comes too soon,” Pearson said. “As far as we can tell the altitude has an impact on it too. The temperature swings, from day to night, are the biggest thing impacting them.”
Grand Hemp grows cloned hemp plants in a makeshift greenhouse and has successfully grown crops two years in a row, but the vicissitudes of Middle Park’s cold high country climate have made the group question the commercial viability of future efforts.
“To tell the truth I’m not sure if it is economically viable (in Grand County),” Pearson said. “We wanted to play around with it, and see if it was even worth it. But we are kind of turnign away from it. THe only way to grow it (in Middle Park) would be with a large industrial greenhouse.”
Pearson said he wishes other farmers in Middle Park luck if they want to tackle hemp growing and added folks could reach out to Grand Colorado Hemp Company for more detailed information on how they grew their crops over the last two years.
In 2013 Ryan Loflin, a farmer from Springfield Colorado, cultivated the first large scale, legally harvested, hemp crop in US history in several decades.
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The Colorado Department of Transportation has closed Colorado Highway 125 in Grand County while crews work to clear the route of mud, debris and snagged trees piled up on various bridges and guardrails.