Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Hemp industry hampered by federal drug laws
By Robert Allen
Dog collars made from hemp grown outside the United States but now available from
Loveland-based Colorado Hemp Company. / Courtesy of Morris Beegle
A leafy-green plant that doesn’t bear intoxicating buds but is banned under federal drug laws is poised to take root in Colorado agriculture as early as next year.
State voters approved industrial hemp in November when they legalized marijuana with Amendment 64 in Colorado, and the state legislature last session passed a bill to have rules in place by March 2014 to create a registration program.
But the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration could still step in with federal enforcement. Like with marijuana, the mind-altering cousin of hemp, there hasn’t been a substantial response from the U.S. Attorney General’s office regarding whether it would interfere.
Clothing and other materials made from hemp are legal for sales in the United States, and advocates say there’s a $400 million U.S. market for industrial hemp fiber and seeds. But all that money now goes to farmers and processors outside the country because hemp materials can only be imported from other countries, according to the 2012 Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
Morris Beegle, 46, of Loveland says demand will be high once Colorado-grown hemp gets rolling. It has about 25,000 uses, from hats to insulation. His website for Colorado Hemp Company is the second item that pops up when “Colorado hemp” is Googled. The business is in its infancy, offering wholesale products, but someday he hopes to open a store to sell grown-in-Colorado hemp hats, shoes, cereal, oil and more.
“Hemp is an extremely nutritious plant, and as environmentally and health-conscious as Colorado tends to be with the non-(genetically-modified organism) fight that’s going on and GMO labeling, anti-fracking and the outdoor lifestyle,” hemp fits right in, Beegle said.
U.S. Rep Jared Polis, who represents Fort Collins in Congress, has advocated for hemp and proposed legislation this year that would help secure future production in Colorado. He also worked to get a flag made of industrial hemp flown over the U.S. Capitol on the Fourth of July this year.
In a letter earlier this year, he pressed the Colorado State University System Board of Governors to use Amendment 64 to take the lead in developing a U.S. hemp industry. The university responded that it could lose federal funding by getting involved with the illegal practice. Polis responded that he is certain this wouldn’t happen, and he urged he the university to seek a waiver from the DEA.
But CSU Board of Governors Chairwoman Dorothy Horrell said in a letter that CSU’s institutions remain prohibited from any research involving hemp, and the the board doesn’t intervene with its institutions’ research decisions.
The Coloradoan asked CSU about prospects for hemp research and received an e-mailed response from its general counsel Jason Johnson explaining that there would be no hemp research so long as it’s federally illegal, despite recognizing “that there are numerous research opportunities for production and use of hemp.”
It cites the Federal Controlled Substances Act and Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 as reasons for keeping hemp off campus.
“The law is clear on this matter, and we do not want to do anything that would unintentionally result in personal criminal liability for CSU employees or that would disqualify the institution from obtaining future government funding,” Johnson said in the e-mail.
A spokesperson with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on hemp in Colorado.