Rise of HempireBy Jake Browne
When Coloradans passed Amendment 64, they ushered in a new era in agriculture for the state. The immense health benefits of this plant have been becoming more and more apparent in recent years, as well as the millions of potential dollars in tax revenue and new jobs. What most didn’t know, however, is that the regulation and distribution would be handled in one concise line: “Not later than July 1, 2014, the General Assembly shall enact legislation governing the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.” Welcome to the hemp revolution.
Touted as one of the most versatile plants in the world, hemp has been used for thousands of years for its strong fibers and pulp. Because it “grows like a weed,” more and more research is being conducted to determine its viability as fuel, as well. And any trip to a Whole Foods market will show you that hemp seed and hemp oil are one of the hottest health food crazes in America right now, with shelf after shelf of imported products—usually from Canada. Heck, they even blog about Hemp History Week. So why aren’t Colorado farmers cashing in, too?
Industrial hemp generally contains trace amounts of THC, landing it squarely on the Schedule 1 banned substances list. Most proponents argue this would be tantamount to banning mouthwash sales to those under 21 because it contains alcohol. Farmers worry about the perception that they’re growing marijuana and the stigma attached. Still, it may be a moot point in the end.
While many states have considered or approved initiatives that would sanction this production, large-scale growing still risks incurring the ire of the federal government. Colorado farmers are banking on the Obama administration looking the other way as was the case with medical marijuana in the late 2000s, and as they’ve hinted at when the President famously said in a December interview with Barbara Walters, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.” Politicians at the state level, at least, are willing to give it a shot.
In February 2012, Rep. Wes McKinley introduced legislation to begin a study of how hemp could benefit Colorado in a unique way: phytoremediation. The plant has long been used in areas where soil contamination poses a serious threat to those around it, including wildlife and small ecosystems. Hemp absorbs these toxic elements and has a net positive effect on its surroundings, and could have practical uses around the state, including the Rocky Flats area. The study is set to extend through 2022, but could be accelerated by that one innocuous line in Amendment 64.
Activists haven’t let up in the wake of 64’s passage; in fact, they’ve redoubled their efforts. We The People, the White House’s official petition site, currently lists hemp as the No. 5 most popular petition in the agriculture category, with three GMO petitions above it and one for, you guessed it, legalization of cannabis. The organizer argues that instead of being regulated by the DEA, the trace amounts of THC in hemp would be better handled by an agricultural agency: the USDA. While it appears that the petition will face an uphill fight to reach the goal of 100,000 signatures, this issue is clearly not going away. Not until that hill is covered in hemp plants.
If you’re interested in celebrating Hemp History Week, mark your calendars for June 3-9. Locally, several Sprouts market locations in Westminster, Thornton, Littleton, Greeley, Greenwood Village and other communities will be doing their part by promoting hemp foods and body care products by manufacturers like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. For more info, go to sprouts.com.