Four years ago, the people of Colorado approved Amendment 64, legalizing marijuana and hemp in the state. In just its third growing season, the hemp industry has exploded in the Centennial State, despite continuing federal prohibition. In fact, between state policy and people simply willing to defy the feds, Colorado has effectively nullified the federal hemp ban within her borders.

According to Colorado Department of Agriculture hemp program director Duane Sinning, 42 of 64 counties in the state currently have growers registered to cultivate industrial hemp. He estimates farmers will grow more than 8,000 acres of the plant outdoors this year, with another 1.25 million square feet of indoor production.

A few of the growers and several academic institutions have obtained federal permission to do hemp research, but many farmers have simply ignored federal law and planted their crops anyway. And they have managed to do so despite the difficulty in obtaining seed.

Under federal law, hemp is nearly impossible to import. But enterprising farmers have figured out ways around the ban. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Sinning explained that there was actually already seed in the state before legalization. Some was illegally grown, and some came from “naturalized stands” growing wild in the state.

“Before there was the farm bill there were people that have always been growing seed, just like there was marijuana in the state before there was Amendment 64, there was hemp in the state,” Sinning said. “They picked and harvested a lot of that seed and they’ve been doing some crossing to develop some new varieties in the state.”

Mike Sullivan owns Hemp Farm Colorado in Johnstown. Over the last three years, he’s built up a considerable seed stock. He now sells seed to other farmers. But how did he acquire the seed for his first harvest?

“We got one pound of seed from the stork, and the other pound of seed from an old farmer out east that said his grandpa and his dad used to grow hemp up until the late 50s when they finally shut him down and wouldn’t let him grow anymore.”

The use of the term hemp stork created the impression Sullivan might have smuggled in the hemp. As it turns out, the stork was Veronica Carpio. She began developing a strain of hemp seeds even before state legalization in order to produce hemp coffee. Once the crop was legalized, Carpio sold some of her seed stock to several buyers, including Sullivan. He combined his two strains to create his own seed.

With fear of state prosecution lifted, people like Sullivan willingly risk federal prosecution, obtain seed, grow hemp and sell harvested seeds anyway. With in-state seed stocks now growing, many believe farmers will be able to transition this year and begin selling the crop for industrial uses instead of using it to generate a future crop.

in fact, Sinning said the state has started to develop its own seed certification program. Growers recently planted five research plots. The goal is to develop seed stock within the state that farmers can purchase with confidence, knowing that it will produce plants below the allowable THC limits.

This is indicative of the rapid growth of the hemp industry in Colorado since legalization.

“We’re in the infancy of an industry that is emerging. Where it will go I don’t think we know. But it has grown significantly,” Sinning said.

All indications point to a rapidly expanding hemp market in Colorado. In just three years, the nature of the grower has changed significantly, with bigger players getting into the game.

“What we’re seeing is definitely a move from almost hobbyists or small 1-acre, half-acre land areas to literally parts, or whole parts of a circle-pivot,” Sinning said.

Industrial hemp processing companies have also started spring up. Sinning said the state does not regulate processors, so he doesn’t know how many exist. But he expects more companies will move in as demand grows.

“Processing is starting to come in. We’ve got investors coming in. We’ve got a number of processors that are doing extraction that are portable. So, I think we’re seeing processing now ratchet up as we see production ratchet up.”

Clearly, for all practical purposes, Colorado has nullified federal hemp prohibition in practice. Since the state legalized the crop, a thriving industry has taken root and continues to grow. The more that market grows, the less likely it becomes the federal government will interfere at all.

Colorado provides the blueprint on how to deal with useless, unconstitutional federal “laws.” Just ignore them and they will literally go away.

Mike Maharrey

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