My blog is dedicated to the exploration of industrial hemp in America including the rich history of all forms of cannabis, the evolving law and politics of hemp and marijuana, the many products made from cannabis and the capacity, real or imagined, of hemp to re-industrialize rural America and revitalize the American family farm.
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Risks and rewards: Progressive 15 conference analyzes hemp industry
Attendees ask questions at the speakers' tables during the Hemp Expo. (Stephanie Alderton / Fort Morgan Times)
At a Progressive 15 hosted conference on Monday, several experts weighed in on one of the fastest-growing and most controversial agricultural industries in Colorado.
Industrial hemp became legal in Colorado two years ago along with recreational marijuana, and although there are now about 166 registered hemp growers in the state, it remains a risky investment for farmers hoping to break into a brand new industry.
Grant Orvis explains the difference between hemp and marijuana using genetics at the Hemp Expo in Akron on Monday. (Stephanie Alderton / Fort Morgan Times)
The speakers at the Hemp Expo, including representatives of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, lawyers, breeders and growers, attempted to clear up the haze surrounding the business. About 100 people attended, most of them farmers with no hemp experience.
"You can tell this is a hot topic, because we were still receiving reservations even just this morning," said Cathy Shull, executive director of Pro 15.
Duane Sinning of the Colorado Department of Agriculture started the conference by explaining the difference between marijuana and industrial hemp. According to state law, industrial hemp is a cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC, the chemical that makes marijuana smokers high. It can be used in a wide variety of products, from food to medicine to clothing, and it's legal to grow and sell almost anywhere in Colorado.
Farmers who want to start growing hemp are bound to face legal problems at some point. Although it may be genetically different from marijuana, it looks virtually identical, and federal law treats both plants the same, which means hemp can't be transported across state lines. Worse, the amount of THC in a hemp plant can change depending on the age of the plant and the climate it's growing in, and right now there are few protections in place for farmers who find their crops above the limit come harvest time.
But unlike medical and recreational marijuana, hemp is still largely unregulated by the government. Agricultural lawyer David Bush explained why that's both a blessing and a curse for growers. On the one hand, it makes the budding industry more uncertain for those looking to break into it, but on the other, it makes it much cheaper and easier than growing other forms of cannabis.
"We're industry leaders in this state," Bush said. "Yes, the law is a little funny, it's a little fuzzy, we don't have all the answers yet...but nonetheless, we are the leaders, and we should be proud of that."
Casey Ives talks about how PureVision Technologies manufactures hemp products at the Progressive 15 Hemp Expo on Monday. (Stephanie Alderton / Fort Morgan Times)
One of the keys to a safe, legal hemp industry will be regulating seed production. THC is a genetic trait, so it's largely up to breeders to ensure that hemp plants don't have too high a concentration of it. Grant Orvis, an industrial hemp breeder, said he expects certified hemp seeds to be more widely available within the next four years, but until then, he advised farmers to be very careful where they buy their seeds.
"If the plants test hot, you should get your money back," he said.
Attendees also heard from people who have already started to make a name for themselves in the hemp industry, like Casey Ives of PureVision Technologies, Bill Billings of the Colorado Hemp Project and Morgan County farmer Matt Silz. They talked about the many uses of hemp, and all the ways farmers who invest now could make money off it. Jason Robillard of the U.S. CBD Corporation went so far as to call it "the most valuable crop in the country right now."
But not everyone was convinced. During the animated conversations that broke out between sessions, many farmers expressed their worry that the risks of growing hemp would outweigh the rewards.
But Delbert Liming, a farmer from Kirk, disagreed.
"When you're just starting up something like that, there are always going to be problems," he said. "But if you wait until it's all done and established, you won't be at the front end anymore. I think I'd take the gamble."