Two legislators to push bill on industrial hemp
DENVER — Hemp suffers from a bad image problem.
Though hemp does contain a trace amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active chemical in marijuana, it is not pot, not even close, supporters of industrializing it say.
It is a highly versatile, drought-tolerant plant with tremendous business potential, particularly for Western Slope farmers, they say.
“Hemp is the duct tape of the agricultural world, it fixes everything,” said Lynda Parker, citizen advocate for Agricultural Hemp Initiative, a private Denver-based group pushing to commercialize the plant. “Hemp is food, feed, fiber, fuel, shelter and filter. It not only filters soil, but it also filters air and water.”
Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that bans growing hemp, Parker said.
At the same time, the nation makes up 90 percent of the market for hemp products, a $450 million-a-year retail market, she said.
Its fibrous stem is used to make such things as clothing, dog collars, nutrition bars, livestock feed, heating oil, cosmetics and a slew of other things.
Moreover, it’s inexpensive to cultivate and farmers can use it to detoxify their fields, getting rid of everything from heavy metals to excess nitrates.
So why isn’t it already in widespread use in this nation?
Parker blames other industries that didn’t want the competition, from big steel to chemical companies to the lumber industry.
They all conspired against it early in the 20th century, successfully billing it as being synonymous with marijuana. As a result, it was included in the first federal controlled substances act, and growing it became illegal.
All that changed when Colorado voters last fall approved Amendment 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana. In that ballot measure was a provision to allow the cultivation of hemp.
As a result, two Western Slope lawmakers, Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, are working to write the state laws that will advance the industry in Colorado.
Schwartz, whose district includes Delta County, said hemp not only has the potential to be a major economic boon for farmers and entrepreneurs, but also in helping to mitigate soil erosion and prevent flooding, particularly after wildfires.
“To the extent that it’s a fast-growing, drought-resistant crop, it could be utilized in these areas where it’s so inevitable fires are going to happen,” Schwartz said. “We have to redevelop the ecosystem in our forests, but introducing a species, it’s sort of like tamarisk, you just have to be careful how we bring other species into the forest.”
Later today, the state panel created by Gov. John Hickenlooper to implement the provisions of the amendment is expected to vote to delay for a year discussing the hemp aspect of the ballot measure, primarily because it has its hands full dealing with recreational marijuana.
But Schwartz and others plan to let them know they aren’t waiting, and expect to develop a bill of their own to be introduced into this year’s session of the Legislature.
Before that happens, the lawmakers plan to have a series of town hall meetings next month to get public input on the uses and pitfalls of industrial hemp.