Hemp Industry Overview

Inaugural year of regulation in Colorado

For Boulder Weekly

By Melissa Schaaf

“What if we just woke up one day and corn was outlawed?” asks Eric Hunter, president of the Rocky Mountain Hemp Association. “Imagine if 80 years down the road corn was illegal. There go chips, corn syrup, plastic cups. Hemp is just as harmless as corn — why should it be illegal?”

Although illegal at the federal level, small steps are being taken toward legalization of industrial hemp farming across the nation. In 2014, Colorado and Kentucky regulated legal hemp cultivation as part of the Farm Bill, allowing growers to register farmland dedicated to the crop. As of August 2014, Colorado had 55 commercial registrants with 1,461 acres and 73 research and development registrants with 237 acres.

Despite the number of acres and individuals registered, many fields are void of the crop due to seed accessibility issues. Of the 1,698 registered Colorado acres dedicated to cultivating hemp, 300 of those belong to Ryan Loflin’s farm in Springfield.

“Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to plant a little over six acres,” he said. “I wasn’t able to get seed — it got held up at customs.”

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Loflin

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Loflin

Loflin joins several registered farmers facing barriers and blockades during the inaugural year of hemp regulation in Colorado. Deputy Commissioner for the Colorado Department of Agriculture Ron Carleton explains these are due in part to regulation inconsistencies. In addition to the Farm Bill at the federal level, the passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado legalized the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp and allowed farmers to register with the state either as commercial growers or research and development growers.

“There are difficulties getting seeds because industrial hemp has essentially been illegal since the 1950s,” Carleton says. “The only seed they can get is from other countries because of the conflict with state versus federal law. Hemp and marijuana are considered to be one in the same, and seeds cannot be imported without an import permit from the [Drug Enforcement Agency]. And they’re not issuing any.”

Hunter says another hurdle lies with seed breeders refusing to export their seeds.

“Because it’s illegal, there’s no patent protection; they would have to be registered as part of the national seed database,” he says. “Until that happens, there’s really nothing to do.”

If farmers are lucky enough to get ahold of seeds, it’s not cheap. Seeds are typically imported from Canada, China and the European Union. Loflin estimates that seeds are being sold from Europe at $4 to $5 per pound and has even heard of an Italian seed going for $12 per pound. Last year he imported about 1,500 pounds of hemp seeds from Europe to plant 300 acres. The seeds were shipped in 55 pound bags for $250 per bag. He planted six acres this year with seeds he harvested from the previous year.

“This year, I tried to do it completely legitimately through the Farm Bill,” he said. “I want to focus on seed production and establish good, climatized seed genetics. We’re not sure what the policy will be next year and getting seeds could be a problem again.”

Even if seeds are acquired and planted, farmers gamble with the potential potency of the hemp they’re cultivating. Under Farm Bill regulation, the Department of Agriculture reserves the right to test the crops to ensure the delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive constituent in marijuana, is below 0.3 percent. If a crop tests beyond the limit, the farmer cannot legally harvest the hemp and may be required to destroy it, resulting in a major financial loss. With high prices and strict regulations, the reintroduction of hemp in Colorado has been difficult on farmers.

“In the first developing years of hemp plants being reestablished in American soil, there could be THC spikes and changes,” Loflin says. “I think if they raised the level to 1 percent that would give every farmer peace of mind not having to worry. It costs me $300 per month just to water — if you put all that money into it and are told to destroy it in the end, it’s a big loss.”

The United States has historically had a love-hate relationship with Cannabis, the genus encompassing both hemp and marijuana. In 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act which effectively began the era of hemp prohibition. The tax and licensing regulations of the act made hemp cultivation difficult for American farmers. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in WWII, however, was a game changer. It cut off foreign hemp from the Philippines, so the federal government subsidized and encouraged hemp cultivation during this time, leading farmers to grow more than one million acres. After the war ended, the government quietly shut down all hemp processing plants, and the industry faded away again. And, in 1970, the country severed all ties with the crop by categorizing all cannabis as a Schedule I substance per the Controlled Substances Act, freezing any sort of hemp cultivation, processing facilities and consumer sales.

Hunter believes reverting back to federal legalization would mark the end of what he considers an unnecessary era.

“Legalization would be a return to normalcy,” he said. “I laugh when they say legalization is an experiment — prohibition is the experiment.”

Although it’s illegal to grow, hemp products can be legally imported and traded in the U.S., with the majority of them sourced from Canada. An estimated 25,000 products are made from industrial hemp, including food, fiber, seed and oil. And Americans seem willing to pay for it. The Hemp Industry Association estimated the total sales of all hemp products in the U.S. for 2011 was $452 million.

“It’s a crying shame it’s been illegal since the end of World War II,” says Morris Beegle, founder of the Colorado Hemp Company. “[Hemp] is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, plants on the planet. It can be used as medicine, fuel, housing materials, nutrition — there are so many amazing uses. It’s lumped in with marijuana because of its genetic makeup, but you can’t get high from it.”

Although hemp is a cousin to marijuana, the psychoactive constituents are a notably smaller percentage of the chemical makeup. Recreational and medicinal marijuana have a higher percentage of THC usually ranging from 3 to 30 percent, whereas cannabis with THC levels of 1 percent or lower is considered hemp. Hemp also has a higher ratio of cannabidiol (CBD) to THC. Cannabidiol is found in both hemp and marijuana and is a non-psychoactive compound typically used for medical purposes.

The most famous example of medicinal hemp use is that of Charlotte Figi, a 5-year-old girl who suffered from Dravet syndrome that caused her to have hundreds of seizures every week. In 2012, a strain of hemp was developed in Colorado Springs to help Charlotte. Through cross breeding hemp varieties and landrace strains of cannabis a new strain emerged yielding extremely high levels of cannabidiol and very low levels of THC, 20 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Consumed in hemp seed oil form, this strain eased Charlotte’s seizures from hundreds per week to only a few per month and was christened Charlotte’s Web.

Using Charlotte’s example and research studies on the medicinal benefits of hemp oil, representatives are going to bat at the federal level to separate hemp from marijuana by legal definition. The Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014 was introduced to Congress on July 28. According to the Act, it would exclude “therapeutic hemp” and “cannabidiol” from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Loflin

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Loflin

The separation of hemp from marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act could reclassify or remove it from Schedule I classification, potentially leading to the federal legalization of hemp. Farmers would then be able to freely cultivate the crop on a larger scale. Colorado farmer Loflin sees that as a way to create employment opportunities and improve the economy.

“Ultimately, this is a job-creating crop, and what we need more than anything right now is jobs,” he says. “Leading the nation is pretty exciting — we’re right at the tip of the iceberg as far as the future goes. Famers have been struggling for years, and this is giving them hope again.”

New cultivation of one of the oldest crops may not only create jobs, but also benefit the environment. Hemp is among the oldest industries on the planet, dating back more than 10,000 years to the beginnings of pottery. The plants can range from three to 15 feet in height and typically don’t require pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, making them eco-friendly. Hemp grows well in a variety of climates, including the hot, dry areas of Colorado farmland, and therefore has the potential to be a drought crop. The two main products gleaned from harvest are hemp seed oil and hemp fiber, both of which Loflin is striving to harvest from each individual plant for maximum use and minimum waste.

Beegle explained that the plant is durable and able to adapt to several different growing environments.

“Our climate seems good for a variety of cultivars (strains of hemp) that can produce nice fiber, seed, oil, leaves, high [ cannabidiol], and in turn open up all kinds of innovative entrepreneurs in the area to start creating products, hiring employees, and helping the economy,” Beegle said. “I can see an emphasis on bio-fuels, building materials, food and health products, CBD concentrates and specialty fiber uses.”

With Colorado on the forefront of the changing hemp industry, Deputy Commissioner Carleton also sees promise for the future of hemp farming despite the hurdles many farmers faced in 2014.

“Industrial hemp has a lot of promise and potential as a commodity crop for our farmers,” he said. “I think it may take us a little while to get to the point where a lot of it is being cultivated and economically viable, but it has every intention to be a profitable crop.”


Marijuana Growing Practices

So, what exactly are you smoking?

For Boulder Weekly

By Melissa Schaaf

Your next blunt or pot brownie may have some undesirable additives, including neurotoxins, molds and heavy metals. Arsenic, anyone?

The passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado legalized recreational marijuana for those 21 years of age or older, and House Bill 1317 initiated mandatory potency testing — but only for the recreational stuff. Medical marijuana has been available to physician-approved patients, but is not required to undergo any sort of potency testing or contaminant detection. Under current legislation, recreational marijuana cannot exceed 100 milligrams of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per unit and must pass laboratory inspection. Unless specifically requested, neither recreational nor medicinal marijuana is tested for potentially harmful toxins, including pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and molds.

Smoked, vaporized or ingested, the absence of chemical-level regulation can potentially produce unwanted health issues.

Matt Haskin, co-founder of quality assurance testing laboratory CannaSafe Analytics, says the most common toxins found on cannabis are pesticide residues, including avermectins and miticides. In high enough doses, these can affect the central nervous system. Based in Southern California, CannaSafe Analytics was the first International Organization of Standardization accredited cannabis testing laboratory in the nation.

“One of the biggest problems is with cannabis is spider mites,” Haskin says. “We’ve found traces of certain pesticides that cannabis growers use for them that are not allowed in any agricultural farming situation and are mostly used for ornamental flowers that won’t be consumed by people. These miticides are neurotoxins that can build up in the body. It’s very rare that laboratory growers want to test for residues, and there are no regulations in place that require them to do so.”

In addition to pesticides and herbicides, molds can also be an issue with cannabis. According to California-based Steep Hill Labs, Inc., the most commonly seen mold is mildew, which is also the least harmful. Aspergillus, however, is also found on cannabis and can have highly toxic carcinogenic properties that damage the kidneys. Whether slightly harmful, or seriously concerning, users who already have a compromised immune system and use marijuana for medicinal purposes may be exposed to additional contaminants of untested cannabis.

Based on the Colorado Department of Revenue sales numbers, medical marijuana patients are shelling out big money for potentially untested product.

Medical marijuana sales in the second quarter of 2014 totaled a staggering $10,993,864 in Boulder County alone and $105,643,590 across Colorado. This is an increase of more than $2 million in Boulder County and more than $5 million in Colorado from second quarter 2013 sales. For the entire first half of the 2013 to 2014 fiscal year, Boulder County recorded $21,692,990 in medical marijuana sales, adding to Colorado’s total of $215,960,667. As of Aug. 1, 2014, there were 488 licensed medical marijuana centers and dispensaries, more than double the 217 licensed retail marijuana stores.

Contaminants and toxins not only pose a threat for medical patients, but also for recreational users. And there are more than just a few of those individuals.

Photo courtesy of Sean Bradley

Photo courtesy of Sean Bradley

Cannabis sales have exploded in Colorado after the legalization of recreational marijuana, resulting in a 31 percent higher demand than the Department of Revenue initially estimated. With approximately 686,000 yearly users and 485,000 monthly users, the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) Market Size and Demand Study released in July estimated marijuana demand by Colorado adult residents will reach 121.4 metric tons in 2014.

That’s a lot of green – in bud and in dollars.

The demand for both recreational and medicinal marijuana has put pressure on growers and producers to grow faster with higher yields, which may lead to some growers compromising quality in order to meet the demand.

“There are fantastic growers out there right now, and a lot of horrible ones,” said Randy Haskin, laboratory director for CannaSafe Analytics. “Always question whether or not the product has been tested.”

Specifically, Haskin said, for the presence of plant growth regulators.

“Plant growth regulators were developed to increase the flowering of ornamental plants and make them grow bigger and faster,” he said. “This is fine for ornamentals. If they’re used on cannabis, the buds will be bigger and the plant will look healthy, but it will be full of metal, including mercury, zinc and arsenic.”

In this case, bigger doesn’t always mean better.

Although traces of extremely harmful chemicals are rare, laboratories are only able to test whatever samples certain registered growers and dispensaries send in, leaving users to question how many choose not to, and why.

Lead grower for Organic Alternatives Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Fort Collins, Sean Bradley, believes that all marijuana, recreational and medicinal, should be tested and upheld against the industry standard.

“We test every single one of our batches for potency and for contaminants,” he said. “The reputation of the industry is at stake when it comes to that kind of thing. Consistency should be standard – this is legitimate of any industry, not just marijuana.”

Organic Alternatives displays all of their products as grown and produced organically. Despite clean, organic growing practices, there is no cannabis product that can be technically labeled organic, according to the United States Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration, because it is still illegal at the federal level and classified as a Schedule I substance.

“For something to be organic, it has to be a sustainable crop,” Haskin said. “That would mean there’s no chemicals, no pesticides and all natural soils. That’s what people think is organic and there’s nobody applying those rules in the cannabis industry that we know of.”

Haskin explained that cannabis is grown in three different ways: outdoors, indoors or in a greenhouse setting. Even if outdoor growers opt out of using chemical pesticides and herbicides, the plants are susceptible to cross contamination from other farms where chemicals could be carried through the air. To deter any sort of contamination and ensure complete organic properties, he said that the marijuana would have to be grown in a clean room from floor to ceiling where individuals would have to adorn hazmat suits. Although this method would produce the cleanest product, he noted that it would also cost more and generate smaller yields.

“There’s a lot more indoor growing because people don’t want outdoor problems,” he said. “A clean room eliminates forces attacking the plant, but it’s also the least productive. The exact same plant clone grown outside producing 2 to 2.5 pounds of marijuana might only produce 2.5 to 3 ounces inside. No matter how much artificial light is regulated, plants like sunlight.”

Bradley has a slightly different view on what it means to grow organically.

“Whether it’s marijuana or a tomato, I would define truly organic as having it be outdoors, living off the sun and the nutrients provided in the ground how nature intended it,” he said. “To say we’re organic but we’re growing indoors is a controversial topic, and we’re very aware of that. The fossil fuels used for the lights could be argued unsustainable and non-organic – we use a lot of electricity and in turn we pay for wind and solar credits to try and create a balance.”

He agreed that it costs the company two to three times the amount in production costs to grow as organically as possible, and that “the yield is less, but the product is superior.” Organic practices, such as making microbial teas brewed with water, oxygen and raw materials (note: earthworms, and bat and bird guano), allow the plants to take up these non-chemical fertilizers from the soil, creating a living colony of beneficial bacteria for the plant. Any chemicals use, including pesticides, fungicides and cleaning materials, are all certified organic.

Unlike Organic Alternatives, not all dispensaries or marijuana businesses elect to test their product for potency or contaminants before it hits store shelves, and consumer blood streams. An even greater barrier is posed for individuals who want to get a product tested, whether bought at a dispensary, or created at home. Earlier this year, the MED barred licensed marijuana testing labs from accepting samples from individuals not registered as a business with the state. Laboratories are required to track all samples through the state’s inventory tracking system, which all licensed marijuana businesses must use. As of Aug. 1, 2014, Colorado had four licensed and certified cannabis testing laboratories. Effectively, neither medical marijuana patients, nor those who make tinctures, oils, or edibles at home, have the option of submitting any dispensary-bought or personal samples to ensure specific potency or the absence of additional toxins.

This can be a pose a major problem for those aiming to create or to buy marijuana with certain THC and cannabidiol, or CBD, levels. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana and is typically used for medicinal purposes.

Potency levels can be just as much of an issue as toxins for both patients and recreational users. Depending on what an individual is consuming the marijuana for, many depend on a particular THC to CBD ratio for medicinal purposes and others for enjoyment. Absence of a label, or a mislabeled product, could produce unwanted side-effects for the consumer.

Cannabis flower

Photo courtesy of Sean Bradley

Even growers who do test for potency can’t always ensure consistency as a single plant’s THC levels may not be uniform throughout.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that THC and CBD levels vary among the colas (flowers) of a plant,” Haskin said. “You can take colas from three different areas of a plant and get three different levels of THC and CBD. It’s not consistent.”

According to Haskin, the THC component of marijuana hardly ever tests at more than 35 percent. However, he said smoking it or ingesting it can have two different effects, which is why labeling, testing and recipe-specific THC levels are important. “Because,” he said, “no one breaks off a half or a quarter of the brownie – they’re going to eat the whole thing.”

“Only about 25 percent of people know the biological effect an edible versus a marijuana cigarette will have on them,” he said. “When it’s inhaled, it hits the blood stream by going through the lungs, affecting the central nervous system and the brain. When it’s ingested, it needs to be titrated through the liver. The liver converts the delta-9 (THC) to a delta-11, which is three to four times more active than delta-9. By the time it gets into the blood stream through the liver, you’re looking at 75 to 100 times more potency.”

Regulations, however, are on the verge of changing in the near future. There is talk of required testing regulations for both recreational and medicinal marijuana, for potency and for contaminants, slowly being phased in over the next year.

“All states should require full testing,” Haskin said. “Colorado is not there yet, but it will be. We’re predicting it will happen by spring 2015.”

Testing not only will allow users and businesses to understand the chemical makeup of a plant, but also for microbiologists and laboratories to more accurately determine the genetic makeup.

“The next level of testing is going to provide some exciting aspects,” Matt Haskin said. “We’ll be able to start genotyping positive strand identification and essentially create a family tree.”

Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa are the two most common marijuana strains produced for consumption. Many growers crossbreed the strains to create hybrids with different ratios of THC to CBD. Growers can breed in certain characteristics unique to a particular strain, including color and odor, and often dedicate a reflective name to the strain. White Widow, Agent Orange and Grape Skunk are just a few examples. Comprehensive testing, however, could cut through the guessing games posed by the creative hybrid names and provide consumers with specific strain information.

“We’re hoping to start the identifying process of testing next year,” Haskin said. “It will get people away from crazy names and making things up and take them back to the basics of the plant profile. For each plant, we will know the exact makeup, chemical structure and be able to trace its genome.”

Without stricter regulations in place, the majority of cannabis testing will continue to be done on a voluntary basis.

“The consistency of the industry and the health of the consumers are on the line,” Bradley said. “We as an industry need to be providing consumers with what’s exactly in our products.”

Until then, it’s up to the consumer to inquire about testing before toking.


Insights from an Editorial Intern

Today is my last day as the Editorial Intern at BizWest Media.

For the past nine months, I have learned more about myself and this crazy world of journalism than I thought possible when I first started. Between the good, the bad and the blatantly ridiculous, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

20 lessons learned as the intern:

1) You will be known as ‘Intern’ and referred to as such when you’re not present until you do something worthwhile. If your fellow reporters start calling you by your real name, that’s a true compliment. Don’t mess it up.

2) Your office phone was previously someone else’s (and not necessarily a previous intern’s), so you will get phone calls, voicemails and requests that have absolutely nothing to do with your job. You will learn the phone list very quickly so that you can easily direct people to the correct sales staff, event coordinator, accountant, facilities manager, etc. You will be inundated with voicemails that you cannot begin to understand the nature of, or why they called your number in the first place. My favorite was a grandfather leaving a message to wish their grandchild a happy birthday…..

3) Your work load will range from very little to what-possessed-me-to-take-this-internship-again? You will be stressed. But, you will get it done. And, for the majority of assignments, they will turn out better than you thought they would.

4) 20 hours per week really means at least 30.

5) You will learn to rely on your fellow reporters. For sources, for information, for advice and for some good laughs. Thanks, Molly and Steve.

6) You will learn a lot about the company you work for and the people you work with. Sometimes a little too much.

7) Some of the people you work with will not know your name or who you are, even after spending nine months there.

8) Editors can sometimes be the voice of reason…and other times make you feel like you don’t even speak or understand English.

9) Confidence is key. With interviews, with writing and with asserting yourself as someone who knows what they’re doing….for the most part. When in doubt, ask questions. Confidently.

10) Some days, your writing will really, really suck and you will wonder why you ever decided to get in to this industry in the first place.

11) Some days, you’ll believe you can win a Pulitzer.

12) Afternoon office beer days are the best days.

13) Don’t tell anyone you’re the intern. When you’re on assignment or conducting an interview, you are not an intern. You are a reporter. (Interns are often seen lowly individuals with small skill sets who have practically no idea what they’re doing. Ok, maybe an exaggeration, but you get the point.)

14) You will get assignments you don’t understand. A few of my favorites were writing about a singles dating app (we had some fun in the newsroom viewing user profiles), outlining the most popular exercises for baby boomers, describing a new, oral-numbing nasal spray, and reporting in-depth about a local university using sheep for space research.

15) You will learn a lot about a multitude of different subjects, sectors, people and projects you report on. You will be a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to random information. This can come in handy in the future.

16) Make sure your name is spelled right on your bylines. Always.

17) Speak up when it comes to edits on your article. If something reads better the way you had it (factually correct and unbiased, of course), consult with the editor or copy editor about why they changed it. They might have a good reason, or they might not.

18) Be sure you can explain or describe anything you have in your article. If you cannot, you will look like an idiot. You may start to be referred to as ‘Intern’ again – JK.

19) You will show up early, you will stay late, and you will work on your assignments outside of your designated “20 hours” per week in order to meet your deadline. Always meet your deadline.

20) Never be the first one at the building. There’s a fine line between over-achiever and desperation. Also, you don’t have a key.

In all honesty, though, I have enjoyed my time working with the news team and will take with me the lessons, insights and knowledge I’ve gained and apply it to future endeavors. I have grown as a writer and reporter and am confident in the skills that I have to take me further as a journalist.

Thanks, BizWest. It’s been fun. ….I’m available for freelance work *hint hint*



SPJ Top of the Rockies awards

A night full of awards and amazing journalism. Congratulations to the BizWest Media team! I’m proud to have been a part of it for the last nine months.

Colorado Pro Chapter -- Society of Professional Journalists

SPJ Colorado Pro chapter president Dennis Huspeni, left congratulates Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dave Philipps of The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, who received the Journalist of the Year award at the Top of the Rockies Awards presentation. SPJ Colorado Pro chapter president Dennis Huspeni, left congratulates Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dave Philipps of The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, who received the Journalist of the Year award at the Top of the Rockies Awards presentation.

What a fantastic night at the Denver Press Club Friday for the SPJ Region 9 Top of the Rockies journalism competition Awards reception. Congratulations to all the winners (all 450 of you!) Here the results in an Excel file. judgments-results-528.1395761152

We will mail certificates to you folks who couldn’t make it (hopefully in the next week). Thanks to everyone for making it a great contest.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dave Philipps of The (Colorado Springs) Gazette received the Journalist of the Year award Friday from the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The award was one of four special honors announced at the chapter’s annual awards ceremony at the Denver Press Club. The…

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