Pubdate: Thu, 11 Feb 2016
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Copyright: 2016 Boulder Weekly
Author: Sarah Haas


In 2015 U.S. consumers bought over $500 million in hemp products,
buying everything from food, cosmetics, fabrics and paper to
construction material, insulation and plastics. It is estimated that
there are more than 25,000 product applications for industrial hemp
and yet the hemp market struggles to capitalize on that vast
potential. Currently listed as a federal Schedule 1 drug in the
Controlled Substances Act, it is illegal to grow the plant or possess
live seeds. But recent activity at the state and industry level is
beginning to challenge that long standing status.

Here in Colorado a small number of permits became available in 2014,
allowing farmers to plant and harvest hemp under the plant's newly
legal status, as granted by Amendment 64. As one of 28 states with
laws to grow or research hemp, Colorado's laws are among the most
transparent and accommodating in the nation because farmers are
allowed to keep their seeds to create Colorado strains particularly
well suited for the state's dry climate.

Not only are the seeds crucial to future crops, but Boulder-based
Activated Living Hemp Foods touts the enormous, yet untapped, health
benefits of hemp sprouts and hopes to bring them direct to the
consumer market. But what began as a simple business model quickly
converged with the larger, complicated political context of the plant.

It is illegal to bring live seeds into the country and illegal to
transport them across state lines, complicating Activated Living's
otherwise simple business model. Hemp seeds currently on the market
are sterilized, meaning they cannot reproduce or sprout and are
stripped of a majority of their nutrients.

"I am totally focused on changing the national environment for our
business," says Rebecca Gretz, co-founder of Activated Living Hemp
Foods, "because in order for our business to move forward, there has
to be a separation between hemp and marijuana, and hemp has to be
removed from the Controlled Substances Act."

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (commonly known as the 2014 U.S. Farm
Bill) was the first step, creating a legal distinction that defines
industrial hemp as Cannabis sativa - with a THC concentration of less
than or equal to .03 percent - and any plant with a higher amount of
THC as marijuana.

With the legal definitions established, hemp enthusiasts it is now
possible to remove industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act
without affecting the status of marijuana. This would effectively
deschedule hemp from the ranks of illegal drugs and allow it to be
treated like a crop, the basis of enabling the domestic production of
industrial hemp.

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 was introduced to the U.S.
Senate in January of last year to do just that, but has since
struggled to gain support and momentum. With lackluster congressional
enthusiasm, the bill sits in a sort of purgatory where it seemed
doomed to waste away its days in committee hearings, never making it
to an actual congressional vote. But, more than a year after its
introduction, the bill is beginning to accumulate support.

In November 2015, the National Hemp Association (NHA), a Boulder-based
nonprofit representing the entire U.S. hemp industry, launched a
federal campaign to pass the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015.

"That single bill is the most important thing we can do, essentially
removing the bottleneck to allow farmers to get seeds," says NHA
Communications Director Neshama Abraham. "If they can get seeds, then
they can start cultivating a domestic crop of hemp. In that way, this
is the most important jobs bill to come in front of Congress this
year. Right now, all the hemp products that are made in the U.S. are
made from imported hemp. Why not cultivate it domestically and create
jobs for rural farmers, here, in our own country?"

Its most notable endorsement came from Democratic senator and
presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in October of last year. The 10th
co-sponsor to come on board, Sanders' endorsement brought national
attention back to the bill and highlighted the bipartisan support of
the bill, with five senators from each party co-sponsoring the bill.

Republican Colorado Senator Cory Gardner signed on to the bill last
March and is not ready to give up on it just yet. He sees the
legalization of industrial hemp as a benefit to Colorado and the U.S.
agricultural community and economy as a whole.

"Removing industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act is
commonsense not only because it's a safe substance with several
practical applications, but also it would create jobs, support our
agricultural community, and spur economic growth," Gardner said in a
statement to Boulder Weekly. "Hemp, which requires little water to
grow, provides farmers with another viable option, and is an ideal fit
for Colorado's climate in particular."

Aside from job creation, there are other advantages to legalizing
industrial hemp. It is a cash crop, meaning that it does not require
many inputs - in this case, herbicides, pesticides or water - allowing
farmers to turn their harvest into a profit more easily and more
sustainably. This is owed to the naturally occurring resiliency of the
plant that is well-suited to most U.S. growing climates.

Opponents to the bill cite food safety issues due to the lack of
thorough testing on the possible effects of products or foods made
from industrial hemp. They are also wary of sending mixed messages to
youths being educated about the dangers of marijuana, a line that claims is too thin.

But now that industrial hemp is firmly disassociated from marijuana in
federal law, these claims are increasingly inconsequential in
comparison to sustainability and economic arguments for industrial

"Plato has this analogy of when it is the right time for something, it
all of the sudden goes from pure individual thought to become
available in multiple people's minds at once," Abraham says. "Hemp is
doing that. It has just shown up in so many people's consciousnesses.
We all think the Industrial Farmer's Act needs to happen right now,
this year, because this is the time for industrial hemp."
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MAP posted-by: Matt