But the dawn of legal hemp in Colorado, which begins Saturday, is as significant — if not more so — as were the first sales of recreational marijuana two months ago.
Saturday marks the first day farmers interested in growing industrial hemp for commercial purposes or for research and development can register with the Colorado Department of Agriculture to do so legally.
“It is no exaggeration to say that Colorado will be leading the nation, and even the world, in the hemp revolution,” said Doug Fine, a New Mexico author and journalist who spent the last two years researching and writing his soon-to-be-released book, “Hemp Bound.”
“Colorado, by pushing ahead, the state is going to be the vortex of a major agricultural industry in this country.”
And it's an industry that is virtually limitless, given the numerous products hemp — the non-drug variant of the marijuana plant — can be added to or turned into, including paper, coffee, shampoo, salad dressing, building materials and paint.
Fine will appear with a slew of other hemp advocates at Hemp Meeting Boulder County, scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Boulder Public Library. Members of the nascent industry, the state agriculture department and law enforcement will be on hand to answer questions.
Department of Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Ron Carleton said he's not certain how many people in Colorado plan to register this weekend, but interest has been high.
“We've had a lot of expression of interest all over the state,” he said.
The cost for industrial hemp farmers to register is $200 plus $1 an acre, while the cost for R&D operations is $100 plus $5 an acre. The state forbids hemp to have more than 0.3 percent THC content. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chief psychoactive ingredient in pot plants.
The registration period ends May 1.
Carleton said Colorado is on the cutting edge of bringing back an industry that thrived in the United States until drug laws that were passed in the early 1900s drummed the versatile plant underground.
“It's returning something that should never have been outlawed in the first place,” he said. “And because there has been such a long gap between now and when it was first cultivated, I think we're going to have a learning period.”
Farmers need to figure out what hemp seed varieties — or cultivars — work best in Colorado's high and dry climate and do so before other states begin to make their own headway into the industry, said Lynda Parker, who maintains the Agricultural Hemp Initiative website.
As attitudes relax and laws are eased regarding marijuana and hemp nationwide, she said, Colorado may not for long hang onto the significant head start it was given by the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012. Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law a farm bill containing a stipulation that allows universities in the nine states that permit industrial hemp cultivation to conduct research into the plant without jeopardizing their federal funding.
But even with those changes, there are still anti-hemp federal laws in place that will slow — at least for now — the progress of large commercial hemp grows in Colorado, Parker said.
“Farmers are very reluctant to grow large acreages if they think they won't get crop insurance, for example,” she said.
Even so, research on cannabis will proceed and the industry will mature, and that can only mean good things for Colorado, Parker said, especially for those able to take the versatile plant and turn it into useful products.
“I see manufacturing in Colorado like the state has never seen,” she said.
Read more: It isn't just about marijuana in Colorado, hemp farming also is taking off - The Denver Post http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_25244302#ixzz2umEIrITJ
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