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Marijuana plants flourish under the lights at a grow house in Denver, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Colorado farmer plants country’s first legal hemp crop in decades

Greg Campbell
Contributor

A farmer in southeastern Colorado has planted a crop that hasn’t been legally grown in the United States for 60 years — industrial hemp.

Hemp is the much-maligned cousin of marijuana, a harmless plant that contains a negligible amount of the psychoactive THC that has made marijuana so controversial.

Under federal law, however, hemp is just as illegal as pot.

But hemp was freed from its legal bonds in Colorado when voters passed Amendment 64 in November, the measure that legalized adult recreational use of pot.

Farmer Ryan Loflin planted the first of what is expected to be several hemp crops grown throughout the state on Monday, in the farming town of Springfield. He’s growing 60 acres on land where he used to grow alfalfa, according to the Denver Post.

Hemp has scores of applications, including as cordage, in clothing, in plastics, in construction and in body care products. The annual market for hemp products is estimated to be about $500 million, according to the Hemp Industries Association, but all hemp is imported into the United States since it’s illegal under the Controlled Substances Act to grow it.

“As the hemp market grows and Canadian farmers increase their hemp acreage to meet demand, U.S. farmers’ frustration at being shut out of the lucrative worldwide hemp market is catalyzing real movement throughout all levels of government to legalize industrial hemp,” said HIA director Eric Steenstra, in a statement.

Because of its semi-arid climate, Colorado is well suited to growing hemp and farmers’ organizations have said interest in the crop is high, especially due to a years-long drought that has crippled many farming operations.

Eight states have passed laws defining hemp as distinct from marijuana and removing barriers to its production, but farmers still face a raid by Drug Enforcement Administration officials enforcing federal law.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 in Congress. It’s been assigned to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

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