Passage of Amendment 64 has given life to a group of zealous enthusiasts who can barely contain their passion for the leafy green substance.
No, not pot. The fanatics get their kicks from buzz-free hemp.
A genetic cousin to marijuana, hemp is a look-alike plant with one key difference. It contains almost no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes users high.
But what hemp lacks in THC, it makes up for by being a remarkable workhorse of industrial utility. From auto bodies to textile fibers to nutrition bars — even as a cleaner of toxic contamination — hemp struts its stuff.
Boosters say hemp is poised to become a big industry in Colorado because Amendment 64 allows its legal cultivation pending legislative authorization.
Lynda Parker’s eyes light up, the all-natural way, when she talks about it.
“My friends tell me I’m too evangelical,” says the retired Dex saleswoman. “But there’s hardly a problem in the world that can’t be solved with hemp.”
She ticks off an abbreviated list, just a tantalizing hint, of the practical applications.
“Hemp is food, animal feed, fiber, fuel, shelter,” she says. “It cleans the air, the water, the soil. Hemp could be enormous for Colorado because we’re the first state to legalize it.”
Hemp’s most common uses are food products derived from seeds and seed oil. Fiber from the stalks of hemp plants are used in clothing and industrial applications, including as a strengthening agent in concrete.
Parker is part of an early-stage, loose-knit coalition formed to raise hemp’s profile. Other members range from a medical-marijuana activist to a Ph.D. candidate at Colorado School of Mines. Their common thread is a belief that hemp is going to be big — bigger, perhaps, than legal marijuana.
The Colorado Center on Law & Policy estimates that state-sanctioned marijuana sales initially could be as much as $270 million a year, producing state and local taxes of $47 million a year.
Yet a mature hemp industry — from farm to factory to storefront — might be 10 times larger than legal marijuana, backers project.
Could anything possibly dampen the potential of this beneficial botanical?
Well, yes. The federal government for one.
Like marijuana, hemp is still illegal in the eyes of the feds, despite Colorado’s clear electoral mandate to legalize it.
By Steve Raabe
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