Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jul 2016
Source: Colorado Springs Independent (CO)
Column: Cannabiz
Copyright: 2016 Colorado Springs Independent
Author: Nat Stein


The smoky sunsets of late make for an eerie reminder of the fires 
burning all around the Springs - to the west, up north and in our 
past. It's unwelcome deja vu, but it seems all but inevitable each summer.

Colorado is hot, dry and windy during the summer, making it fertile 
ground for ravaging fires. But research suggests this recent uptick 
may be attributable to insect outbreaks, drought and rising 
temperatures - all symptoms of manmade climate change. Innovators not 
resigned to that fate have found an unlikely tool for both surviving 
wildfires and preventing them at the same time: cannabis. (But not 
the kind that gets you high.)

"You can't roll up a doobie with what I build with, that's for sure," 
says John Patterson. "But it is a natural flame retardant!"

Patterson, a carpenter-turned-hempster, teaches classes on 
home-building with hemp in Fort Collins. Hempcrete - a mixture of 
hemp stalk, water and lime - could pave the way toward a sustainable 
future when we don't get wiped out by climate change, he says, 
rattling off the material's key eco-friendly properties: It's 
naturally temperature regulating; biodegradable; lightweight; 
antibacterial; antimicrobial; and it's a carbon sequester (meaning it 
absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere rather than letting it keep warming 
the planet).

The thing is, of course, the material is hardly mainstream in the 
American building industry. Growing it became federally legal just 
two years ago under the U.S Agriculture Act of 2014 in states that 
permit it, which Colorado started to do a year earlier.

Industrial hemp production is on the up, but growers have since 
focused mainly on medicinal, nutritional and fibrous uses of the 
plant. Hemp grown for its seeds or the oil you can press from them 
tend to be shorter and bushier, without much regard for the stalk. 
But in the core of that stalk is stringy plant matter that can be 
processed into hempcrete - a value-added product for farmers trying 
to get the most out of their harvest.

"In Europe they've got it down perfectly," Patterson says. "They're 
miles ahead of us. We're just getting started with it here in the 
U.S., with Colorado at the forefront."

Part of the lag, he explains, is that hempcrete makes no explicit 
appearances in the international building code yet. Anyone looking to 
build with an alternative material in this city has to convince the 
Pikes Peak Regional Building Department that "the proposed design is 
satisfactory, and that the material, method or work offered is, for 
the purpose intended, at least the equivalent of that prescribed in 
this Code in quality, strength, effectiveness, fire resistance, 
durability, and safety."

That shouldn't be too hard, Patterson thinks, as long as the case is 

"You can't go in there with your plan scribbled on a napkin reeking 
of weed and expect to get approved," he says. "You've got to be 
professional about it. But it's not a hard sell with my colleagues. 
Once they see it, they're convinced."

That's why education is key. Bill Billings with the Colorado Hemp 
Project is just starting to see the stigma of the prohibition era 
washing away. But it's a slower process than he'd like, given what 
the movement is up against.

"You know how this country is, all of the politicians are owned by 
the oil companies and pharmaceutical companies," he tells the Indy. 
"Every single one of them. So getting through that is hemp's biggest obstacle."

There is some lightening up on the federal level, Billings admits, 
but just some. "These other states are just getting started with 
research and development, but we already know what it's good for," he 
says. "Everyone wants to be all politically correct instead of just 
doing what's right for people and the planet."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom