Colorado: Farmers Search In Vain For Legal Hemp Seed
By Steve Elliott
One entrepreneur is warning that few Colorado farmers will plant hemp this spring if a federal ban on shipping hemp seeds across state lines and national borders isn't changed soon.
Hundreds of Colorado farmers have contacted her in recent months asking where to get hemp seeds for the coming season, said Barbara Filippone, whose Glenwood Springs-based company, EnvironTextiles, imports and sells hemp and other natural fibers, reports Nelson Harvey at the Aspen Daily News.
"I have a notebook with contacts for at least 100 interested farmers, and three to five more calling me every day," Filippone said.
Filippone said she recently heard from an eastern Colorado farmer who got a mysterious shoebox full of seeds in the mail from someone called "The Hemp Stork" who didn't list a return address. The farmer planted some of the seeds, Filippone said, before realizing it was illegal to ship hemp.
"He was terrified," Filipone said, adding that the seeds probably came from a hemp activist "who was not considering things like federal regulations, federal subsidies or crop insurance."
Sourcing hemp seeds from inside the state is next to impossible, since only one Colorado farmer, Ryan Loflin of Springfield, harvested a major hemp crop last year. Under federal law, which regards hemp as a Schedule I controlled substance just like marijuana, shipping unsterilized hemp seeds in from other states or countries is illegal.
All this means that Colorado farmers who intend to plant hemp this spring may have to skirt the law to get their seed, and in the process they could lose federal crop insurance, farm subsidies and other federal aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
"Farmers are risk averse, and you're asking them to take a big risk by planting hemp," said Rocky Mountain Farmer's Union communications director Mick McAllister.
Only one farmer in his 3,500-member organization has definite plans to plant hemp this spring, according to McAllister, who said farmers are intimidated by raids like the one that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration conducted on an industrial hemp field planted by South Dakota's Lakota Sioux Indian tribe in 2000.
Colorado voters legalized industrial hemp along with marijuana when they approved Amendment 64 in 2012. The Colorado Department of Agriculture finalized hemp farming rules last fall.
Under those rules, farmers can begin registering with the state to grow hemp on March 1. They will be required to pay a $200 fee, plus $1 for every acre planted, and will submit to random inspections by state officials to ensure their crop contains less than 0.3 percent THC.
State officials have apparently adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to where farmers are supposed to obtain their hemp seed.
"How farmers are getting seed is a good question," said Colorado Deputy Commission of Agriculture Ron Carleton. "We are just doing a registration and inspection program. We are not asking, in the registration process, the source of the seed."
"In order to avoid breaking federal law a farmer would have to get from within Colorado," Carleton said, who added neither he, his department, nor the office of Gov. John Hickenlooper has yet made a formal request to the U.S. Department of Justice to lift its ban on shipping hemp.
There are glimmers of hope on the federal level. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently asked Attorney General Eric Holder to review hemp's legal status as a controlled substance, and a bill called the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 is set for review by legislative committees in both houses of Congress. The 2014 Farm Bill, meanwhile, contains provisions which would allow limited cultivation of hemp for research purposes by state agriculture departments and universities.
An executive order could protect farmers from prosecution and allow Colorado's hemp industry to get off the ground, according to Filippone.
McAllister agreed, but said such an order wouldn't protect Colorado's farmers if it was undone by a future presidential administration. "If that happened the gates would start to open, but technically you are still not safe," he said.
Grow Hemp Colorado Offers Hemp Seeds
GrowHempColorado.com says it is a resource which can help any individual, farmer, business or other interested party get connected with Colorado hemp seeds and plants. Suppliers or resellers of Colorado hemp seed must be registered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Grow Hemp Colorado says it is offering seed at 50 percent off for those who would like to collaborate in cultivating seed at their location as well as grow mother plants which can be cloned. In return Grow Hemp Colorado is asking for 50-50 share on both the seed harvest and rooted clones. They ask that you contact Veronica at firstname.lastname@example.org to start participating.
"The Colorado Dept of Ag. is well aware of our ongoing efforts to accumulate/cultivate seed for the 2014 season and so far is in support of these efforts so far," Grow Hemp Colorado states on their website. "They are the best government body we have ever worked with!"