By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
The nascent Colorado hemp industry has gotten a double boost in recent months, with a federal decision that made it legal to import hemp seeds into the state for research purposes, and the production of thousands of pounds of seeds by the Colorado Hemp Project.
And here in Carbondale the industry is beginning to take root, as activists start growing their own plots of hemp with the plan of producing seeds for sale to other hopeful hemp farmers.
The news that hemp seed can now be imported into Colorado by entities engaged in official research projects was announced on May 11, in a story by KUNC public radio sin Greeley.
The story, by former Aspen Public Radio reporter Luke Runyon, revealed that the Colorado Department of Agriculture had received permission from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to import industrial hemp seeds from other countries.
A year ago, Kentucky became the first state to get the same permission, after the state won a lawsuit against the DEA over its restrictions on the importation of hemp seeds.
The decision, Runyon reported, came after “months of wrangling” as federal authorities wrestled with the question of how to react to Colorado’s passage of Amendment 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana by those over 21 as well as the cultivation and use of marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, known as industrial hemp.
“The seeds are essential to kick-start Colorado’s hemp industry,” Runyon reported, “which state agriculture officials say has seen a bottleneck in research and cultivation due to a lack of viable seeds.”
He reported that most of the early shipments of seeds will go to researchers at Colorado State University and at the University of Colorado, where the seeds will be used “to grow more reliable seeds that farmers can plant in a certified seed program.”
In early May, a story in the Denver Business Journal reported that the Colorado Hemp Project in Sterling, Colorado, has produced 2,000 pounds of seeds from a 2.5-acre plot of land, and that the group is planning to expand production as quickly as possible in order to provide a viable source of seeds grown in the state rather than outside the U.S.
Meanwhile, back in Carbondale, a local woman confirmed to a reporter that she has planted her own crop of hemp in a backyard greenhouse, with the goal of producing seeds for others to use. The woman requested anonymity due to the plant’s illegality under federal law.
Hemp in this country largely has been bred to eliminate THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that get people high from smoking or ingesting its mind-altering cousin, marijuana.
Nevertheless, hemp has been classified as a Schedule 1 drug since 1957 by the DEA. That listing is primarily because federal drug agents were concerned they could not distinguish between hemp and marijuana in the field, according to numerous reports.
Currently, federal legislation is pending that would strip hemp of its drug classification and make it legal as an agricultural, industrial crop, thereby restoring the plant to its historic usefulness in making rope, paper, clothing, medicinal products, industrial lubricants and more.
The Carbondale resident, who is not alone in growing test plots of hemp locally, said she got her Colorado Gold seeds from a hemp grower in Boulder and planted two crops, one on April 4 and the second on May 4.
She said she has a state “ag license,” the necessary state permit to grow the crop, at a cost of $200.
She noted that “this particular strain is super-low in THC … less than .001 percent.” The government requires a concentration of THC below .3 percent in order for the cannabis plant to be considered “industrial hemp” rather than a mind-altering drug.
Already, the hemp planter told The Sopris Sun this week, the April 4 crop has been rendered “monecious,” or self-propagating, by the uprooting of all the male plants.
The remaining plants in the April crop are producing dense clusters of seeds, and she expects the May 4 planting to do the same.
She then hopes to sell the seeds, possibly for as much as $2 per seed. To do so, she said, she will need a separate license, at a cost of $75, to enable her to legally sell the seeds.
Another state law, she said, sets a minimum germination rate of 75 percent, meaning at least three out of four seeds will germinate and grow into plants. This crop, she said, has demonstrated a germination rate of 90 percent, meaning buyers of her seed can be fairly certain that almost all of the seeds will produce plants.
Our local hemp farmer has been told she should get 500 seeds from a single plant, but after watching the plants grow, she predicted, “That’s not going to happen.”
She expects her plants to be shorter and less productive than plants in other parts of Colorado, perhaps due to Carbondale’s altitude.
She said she also plans to have the stems processed to produce CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid oil that has been shown to have numerous medicinal applications, including a reduction of seizures caused by certain diseases.
The woman said she has had a good experience dealing with state agencies that oversee hemp cultivation regulations in Colorado.
“It’s well regulated, and they are really, really helpful, because this (the growing hemp market) is a good thing,” she said of the bureaucrats she has worked with.
As she goes through the paces of growing and harvesting her plants, she said, “I’m keeping copious notes, because there really isn’t a lot of information out there about growing hemp at this altitude.”
The information she compiles, she hopes, will be beneficial to anyone interested in starting large-scale hemp cultivation operations on the Western Slope, which many see as a potential economic boon for regional ranchers having trouble keeping afloat in the struggling, traditional ranching economy.
Published in The Sopris Sun on June 18, 2015.