Legal or Not: The Precarious Place of Hemp in North DakotaRead More
By Matthew Van Deventer
Outside Hettinger, North Dakota, a small town of about 1,200 residents in the state’s southwest corner, Lyle Freerksen was at work when he got a call from someone claiming to be from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. They needed to take samples of his hemp crop for a routine THC test. This was no surprise to him, and he had nothing to hide. Freerksen had given all of his contact information to local authorities and made himself available for any and all questions or concerns. More importantly, he had a valid license to grow hemp from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) and understood that at some point they would need to test his crop.
Later that day, Freerksen called the NDDA representative to offer his assistance and meet him at his house for the samples. However, they had already taken samples and needed to meet Freerksen to sign some papers.
“Which I though was kind of fishy, because I felt like I should be present for when they take their samples, because who knows where the samples are coming from,” says Freerksen. “But then again, I had no reason to suspect foul-play of any kind. I thought I was being open and honest with everything.”
When Freerksen got to the meeting location, there was a uniformed police officer and another man in plain clothes; nothing beyond what he would expect of a routine crop inspection. However, they arrested Freerksen and charged him with cultivation of a controlled substance and intent to distribute.
By then, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations had searched his house, confiscated his guns, cash, unused pipes and a bong, and burned down all 273 hemp plants he’d been cultivating.
Freerksen asked if they had tested his plants. They said they had, and Freerksen asked what the THC level was. They didn’t know.
“I gave it my test and my test said it’s marijuana,” Freerksen remembers the plain clothes officer saying. They threatened him with 20 years in jail. However, Freerksen was only in jail for about three days, and the charges were lowered to possession of paraphernalia.
He estimates his crop was worth about $140,000. Freerksen said once he got out of jail, he heard that every road leading up to his house was blocked off a half mile away, police were heavily armed and reinforcements had come from several surrounding towns. When he returned home, he found they had burned his hemp plants by circling them with his own firewood and cut every watering hoses about six inches from the spigot, burning those as well.
“What Mr. Freerksen had was a permit from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture for the growing of hemp. They were very clear in the letters they sent to him and in the permitting process that that does not, by itself, give him permission to grow hemp,” says State Attorney Aaron Roseland of Adams County, North Dakota, who was charged with reviewing the case.
Roseland says, the permit “opens the door” for Freerksen to apply to the state’s pilot program or work with a university, so that he can grow hemp under an entity licensed with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
While Freerksen denies getting any such communication from the NDDA saying he couldn’t grow hemp, he says they did warn him he wasn’t protected federally.
“I knew that growing cannabis would be illegal under federal law regardless of a state permit, yes. As is everyone else in the country currently growing hemp or marijuana under any state law that may exist in that state, medical or otherwise,” says Freerksen. To his knowledge, no DEA agents were involved in the raid.
So he reapplied for a permit on his own, went through all the necessary steps, including a background check and finger printing, and soon got a certified letter in the mail with his hemp license. After that, he heard nothing from the NDDA despite repeatedly trying to establish a connection with them and regularly inquiring about THC sampling.
According to the North Dakota Century Code, residents can grow industrial hemp so long as they have a license from the Department of Agriculture to do so.
“That’s why there was no case maintained against him and the charges are dropped. There are no criminal charges now pending against Freerksen.” Roseland continues to clarify, “Because upon review, I found there was not a factual basis to support the maintaining of a charge.”
“They gave him a license. They knew he was growing hemp. Now, if they had a question about it, why would they send out law enforcement with a search warrant—it was just completely uncalled for and heavy handed,” says Eric Steenstra, current president of Vote Hemp. “If they had a real question about it, they could have gone down there and talked to him. There had to be some confusion or major error. I have no idea what led to this, but clearly it was unfounded, because they dropped the charges.”
Steenstra was the Executive Director of Hemp Industries Association when he heard about Freerksen’s case. They offered to defend Freerksen, but he declined and took the plea. Steenstra did do some digging at the time, but North Dakota officials “weren’t forth coming about what really happened.”
For law enforcement to break down doors and burn down crops and ask questions later, only to find little prosecuting evidence is a rarity in the hemp industry. In fact, it’s the first time Steenstra has heard of something like this, and there was little to no media coverage about the case. Even the local press in a town of 1,200 hadn’t gotten wind of it.
“We were really disappointed about it. To be honest with you, I think there was some confusion there; that’s a relatively new program for them,” says Steenstra.
Today, Freerksen’s case is closed, and he has yet to see any test results from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, who declined to comment for this story.
Freerksen says when the arresting officers returned his personal belongings he had a chance to ask them why he was arrested. One officer told him his license says he must be a part of the pilot program or a research university. THC reviewed the license and that is not the case. The other officer said the permit was illegal and that the state had no right to issue the permit, because he wasn’t a part of either of those programs, which also is untrue, according to North Dakota legislation.
To wrap it all up, Freerksen, who does not consume cannabis, got his paraphernalia back: “The last stickler, that I can’t figure out, is when I was talking to these cops about what had transpired, the cop hands me the bong in the middle of the street right in front of the courthouse. So the paraphernalia that I pled guilty to being in possession of, they handed it right back to me.”
Originally published in the Spring 2017 National Issue of The Hemp Connoisseur
CBD Fights Back: Lawsuit Filed Against DEARead More
by DJ Reetz
A lawsuit filed on January 13, 2017 aims to push back against a recent DEA decision to create a separate tracking number for “marihuana extracts” under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively codifying all cannabinoids derived from marijuana or hemp as Schedule I controlled substances. The lawsuit was filed by the Hoban Law Group in the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on the same day the new ruling was set to take effect, and seeks judicial review of the decision, claiming that the DEA has overstepped their authority in adding this definition of “marihuana extract” to the controlled substance schedule without following proper procedures to do so as outlined in the CSA. Serving as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Hemp Industries Association, Centura Natural Foods, and RMH Holdings.
The DEA’s announcement in the federal registry published on December 14, 2016 raised concerns amongst many in the cannabis industry that the DEA would begin to target producers and distributors of hemp-derived CBD, which would fall under the definition of “an extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis” outlined in the DEA’s final ruling.
“This is an action beyond the DEA’s authority. This final rule serves to threaten hundreds, if not thousands, of growing businesses, with massive economic and industry expansion opportunities, all of which conduct lawful business compliant with existing policy as it is understood and in reliance upon the federal government," said Hoban Law Group Managing Partner Robert Hoban in a press release.
The DEA has claimed that the ruling presented in the recent federal register amounted to little more than a clerical decision carried out in order to make tracking cannabinoid extracts easier, but many in the hemp CBD industry saw it as the first step toward a federal crackdown on the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has thus far operated nationally in somewhat of a legal gray area.
The true impact of the classification will likely be seen in the coming months and years.
How to Create More Diversity in the Cannabis IndustryRead More
by Ngaio Bealum
There have been umpteen different articles written about how the cannabis industry needs more diversity, and a few more about how white people (white men in particular) are poised to get rich by selling cannabis, while people of color (the people that have been disproportionately affected by the extremely racist “war on drugs”) have been systematically shut out of the new cannabis industry. What can be done to fix this imbalance? I am glad you asked. And away we go…
Hire More Black and Brown People
It sounds simple, but it just doesn’t happen. Many employers don't even notice that their workforce is somewhat monochromatic, and while you may not notice, people of color pay attention to these types of things. Having a diverse workforce means you will attract a diverse customer base. It is up to the people that do the hiring to make sure that their business reflects the diversity of cannabis culture. Steve DeAngelo, owner of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center (known for being the largest cannabis dispensary in the country) likes to say, “Our new industry should enthusiastically embrace diversity as a strength, not grudgingly accept it as a legal duty.” He is correct. Studies show that businesses (any businesses, not just canna-businesses) with a diverse employee base make more money and are more successful. Having a diverse workforce helps the bottom line, so even if “social justice” isn’t part of the business plan, if the only goal is to make money, it still makes sense to be diverse.
The idea that being in the cannabis industry is a good way to have a legitimate career is still a new concept. A lot of people with good business acumen and a skill set that aligns with what this new industry needs have yet to consider the cannabis industry as a viable option. With a new wave of legalization on the horizon (five states have adult-use cannabis legalization initiatives on the ballot this year); there has never been a better time for people to get involved. While the legal risks are still higher for minorities than they are for white people, the odds that the federal government will choose to prosecute legitimate cannabis businesses acting in accordance with state law are extremely low. There are some groups (the Minority Cannabis Business Association and the newly formed California Minority Alliance come to mind) that can put employers in touch with qualified prospects. Throw a job fair, go to under-served communities and let them know that the cannabis industry is hiring.
Ancillary Businesses Should Get Involved
The cannabis industry isn't just growers and budtenders. Accountants, lawyers, engineers, event planners, architects, carpenters, food service professionals, marketers, IT professionals, graphic designers, copywriters and other businesses can all find a spot in the circle. Entrepreneurs of color should seek out cannabis businesses and look for ways to get involved. Alaska based activist Charlo Greene produces a series on cannabis diversity summits in different towns across the country (www.gogreene.org). These events can be a good way to network with folks that are already in the cannabis industry.
Lower the Barriers to Entry
Getting started in this new industry is expensive. New permits sell for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many folks don't have the financial backing to get involved. Just going to a cannabis business conference can cost upwards of two or three thousand dollars once you include the costs of travel and accommodations. Conferences and Associations need to start offering scholarships and no cost/low cost options to those who may have the desire and the skills, but not the money to get started. Making sure that the people that have been most affected by the drug war at least get a chance to be a part of the new paradigm is vitally important.
Remember how this started
Cannabis legalization wasn't always about millions of dollars of revenue and profits. Sure, money has always been a factor in the argument, but really, folks just wanted to stay out of jail and smoke weed free from the threat of arrest. California’s Proposition 215 (The 1996 medical marijuana initiative that got this whole joint rolling) was started because activists wanted to keep the police from arresting people living with HIV/AIDS and cancer. I hate to sound like an old hippie, but to ignore the compassion and equality ingrained into the history of cannabis legalization in favor of naked capitalism is to invite bad karma. Working to address the harms done to communities of color by cultivating business and hiring from within those communities invites good karma.
All of these suggestions are fairly simple to accomplish. It just takes a little willpower and a bit of mindfulness. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day actions of running a successful business, but it is vitally important to be aware of and to respect the vitality and diversity of the entire cannabis community.
Originally published in the Fall 2016 National Issue of The Hemp Connoisseur
Steering 3-D Printing into Hemp ConstructionRead More
by DJ Reetz
Depending on whom you ask, hemp-based construction is either the savior of the world, or an impractical dream. The process of mixing milled hemp stalks with lime to create a concrete-like substance has seen some success, but the process remains costly, and the resulting hempcrete is not a true substitute for traditional concrete. A recent proposal to create 3D printed structures made of hempcrete may be addressing at least some of these detractions. The idea has gained attention after winning both the judges’ choice and popular choice award at the MIT Climate CoLab, a crowd-sourced scientific contest aimed at mitigating the impacts of global climate change.
The proposal was put forward by The Ancient Future Mystery People’s Pirate Academy, an organization aimed at empowering the population with locally sourced, environmentally friendly solutions to many of the problems facing the world. Naturally, these goals are well-met through hemp.
“I’d heard of hemp, and I knew that it was cool. I knew it was kind of like pot; I didn’t really know the difference that well,” says Chad Knutsen, the founder and self-described Captain of the Pirate Academy. Knutsen says he was first introduced to the enormous potential of hemp by a friend he met during the Occupy L.A. protests. His travels soon took him to Belize, where working to create an eco-community further exposed him to the potential of hemp. “Right away it became obvious that it was the plant that we needed in the world today to solve so many problems in so many industries. We can turn so much waste into abundance,“ he says. Utilizing hemp would allow for local control of materials, empowerment for farmers, and the wrestling of some control away from government officials. However, hemp farming was illegal in Belize, and the quest lead Knutsen to Colorado.
One of the more noteworthy aspects to come out of the time Knutsen spent in Belize was a unique milling system, which remains an integral part of the CoLab proposal to create hempcrete blocks that can be assembled into homes in a similar fashion to Lego bricks. “With our milling system we’re not using any friction, we’re not using heat, and we’re using very, very little energy,” says Knutsen. Using a patented mill design, pieces of hemp stalk are suspended in fluid then hit with a resonating vibration that breaks the material into extremely small pieces. “It literally vibrates the cells apart and pulls everything apart along natural molecular boundaries,” he says. The process creates micronized particles that have a larger net active surface area, allowing them to form a better bond with the lime particles and create a stronger material. It’s a process that benefits any material put through the milling process, and Knutsen claims that conventional flour refined in this method will have a drastically increased shelf life thanks to the preservation of its cellular structure. The added micronization of the milling can also increase the strength of traditional concrete, says Knutsen.
When used as outlined by the proposal, the resulting hempcrete is denser, heavier, and more importantly, sturdier than traditional forms. This means the hempcrete blocks that are produced can potentially be load-bearing, unlike more traditional forms, which can only be used as filling in a support structure’s frame. The micronized particles also have the added benefit of reducing the time required for the hempcrete to cure, cutting it by half or even two thirds, says Knutsen. “That’s what we’re trying to make possible, making it lighter than normal cement, but maintaining the beneficial properties that hempcrete brings.” Under the proposal, hempcrete blocks will be either printed or poured into molds that have been created using a 3D printer. The blocks will be similar in structure to bone, though on a much larger scale, with material occupying only the areas required to maintain structural integrity. “Either way we go, the 3D printing is a necessary element for creating this style of blocks. But we don’t necessarily plan to 3D print houses every time,” he says.
The resulting material maintains the carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative effect that hempcrete is known for, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere as the hemp grows and continuing this process as the hempcrete petrifies. Additionally, the process of 3D printing, which allows for what Knutsen calls “waste-less construction,” compounds the environmental benefit. Unlike traditional construction methods, material is created in the exact amount needed, avoiding the waste of excess lumber that is seen in traditional home construction. The process also allows for a more mobile construction template. Using a portable mill and the pre-rendered molds, a structure can be constructed anywhere that hemp is grown. “Anyone that has hemp can build a house right on site, without having to leave their property,” says Knutsen.
While the current model relies heavily on hempcrete blocks, Knutsen says he would like to eventually adapt it to create structures using lighter, more durable hemp plastics. “That’s really the end goal, having a super modular, simple form of construction that would last hundreds of years once it’s built,” he says. For the time being, such an idea is still a ways off. Currently, Knutsen is working with hemp producers in Colorado to try and create a verifiable proof of concept. There are certainly still barriers to break, and Knutsen anticipates that the biggest challenge won’t come from the legal status of hemp. “The biggest obstacle is really not regulatory,” he says. “The issue really is the fact that the concrete industry is really one of the most cemented industries — no pun intended — in the world.”
“Our big mission is to start helping people think about the long game,” Knutsen says. “If we can get our society to stop just planning for their lifetime, then I think that’s going to be a really key goal in determining if we’re going to survive as a species.”
Hemp Earth’s Founder Has Soaring Aspirations for the First Hemp PlaneRead More
by DJ Reetz
Hemp is taking flight, literally. The versatile crop is getting a new opportunity to soar thanks to a project from Hemp Earth. The idea: create an airplane made primarily of hemp.
“I wanted come up with something to draw a lot of attention to what we were doing, and to hemp,” says Derek Kesek, founder of Hemp Earth. The project, still in the funding and developmental stage, is attracting a bit of buzz these days, and that’s precisely the intention of doing something this bombastic.
“I discovered no one had ever built a plane of this scale from hemp,” says Kesek. After founding Hemp Earth in 2012, Kesek began to look for opportunities to make headlines with hemp. Already an experienced entrepreneur with a socially conscious inclination, he began a foray into the hemp industry with grand ambitions of changing the world.
“I’ve always loved cannabis,” he says. “I just saw a huge opportunity.” The potential growth in the hemp industry offered not just the chance to make money, but to make the world a better place along with it. Kesek sought a way to generate buzz around his company, thinking along the lines of Richard Branson (who he has no problem comparing himself to) creating large-scale publicity by doing something daring and over the top.
“We’re running it similar to Virgin. What I’m doing is I’m building a brand by doing exciting things like building planes and eco-villages out of hemp, then sublicensing out the brand,” says Kesek.
But the wild idea of building a plane out of hemp may have been a little too radical, and when he began shopping the idea to various aeronautical designers he was met with snickers and disbelief.
“Of course they laughed at me at first,” he says. “I guess they didn’t think it could be done. They weren’t really receptive.”
After finding many disbelievers, Kesek finally stumbled upon a company in Florida willing to undertake the endeavor, and he signed them to a contract stipulating that no less than 75 percent of the plane will be made of hemp. The design calls for hemp to be used in the wings, outer shell and interior features such as seats and pillows. It even calls for engines capable of running on hemp bio fuel.
The hemp will provide all the strength of traditional construction materials, says Kesek. “It’s pretty well the same,” he says. The hemp fiber is coated in a natural resin that creates a similar rigidity and strength to fiberglass.
“Basically it’s like building a fiber glass plane, it’s the same kind of method,”
The hemp textile that will make up the outside of the plane is being sourced by Enviro Textiles in Colorado, and in addition to being comparable in strength to fiberglass it comes with the added bonus of being environmentally friendly and will be completely biodegradable along with the resin coating.
“If it did just fall into the bush, then it would just go into the ground and not affect the planet,” says Kesek.
With the plan taking shape, Kesek hopes to have the plane making its debut next spring. And the location of its initial flight is of special significance as it is the site of the first successful flight by the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
“People that were laughing at me in the beginning are now crawling back,” says Kesek. The goals of Hemp Earth to spread awareness for the wealth of applications of hemp as well as its potential for profit are closer to realization than ever before, and Kesek sees the plane as a tangible demonstration of just what hemp will offer in the near future. “When people talk they’re like, ‘hemp can do this,’ or ‘ hemp will do this.’ No, Hemp is doing this right now,” he says.
While others struggle with dogged legal battles, Kesek sees himself as the action over advocacy type — or rather, action as advocacy. Whether it’s the hemp plane or the planned eco village Kesek is putting together in Costa Rica where he plans to headquarter his company, for him a successful business is the best way to change the world.
“I’m about doing things, I’m not about resisting or fighting,” he says. “Why fight the system? Just start doing stuff.”
Hemp Farming in ColoradoRead More
by Rebecca Chavez
In the months and years since the passing of Amendment 64, much has been made of the cannabis “green rush." There’s money in weed, or so we’ve been told, but while many investors focus on recreational uses for marijuana, the hemp industry is struggling to find a foothold with less infrastructure and many of the same restrictions.
The first hemp harvest was over a year ago, but that doesn’t mean that one can walk into a store and find products made with Colorado hemp. The majority of the hemp that we use in the United States is imported from Canada, where they have the processing plants that we need to propel the hemp industry forward in Colorado. Once this integral infrastructure exists, Colorado hemp is poised to be one of the biggest industries in the United States. Until then, hemp farmers have to improvise and forge their own path to commercial success.
One of the unlikely farmers doing just that is Bill Billings. Before the legalization of hemp, Billings was on a different side of the farming industry. He worked as a middleman, moving produce around the country for farmers and retailers. It was this position that helped him build relationships with the farmers around Colorado that would become incredibly important after the passing of the farm bill in 2013. Billings almost immediately saw the benefits of hemp. He didn’t just go after the obvious market of clothing and paper, but wants to ensure that hemp is a part of the growing medical market. He started the Colorado Hemp Project with the help of Jim Brammer, a farmer out of Sterling, Colorado.
Brammer and Billings are vastly different from the majority of cannabis entrepreneurs. They aren’t interested in the high. In fact, the association of hemp with cannabis almost scared Brammer off of the business. Fortunately, the Sanjay Gupta special aired right around the time that Billings approached Brammer and, with this in mind, Brammer offered Billings two acres in Yuma as a sharecropping opportunity, and their first hemp harvest quickly followed.
The medical aspect of hemp is one of the biggest draws for Billings. His passion is surprising at first, but quickly grows on nearly everyone he meets. While many look to hemp as a solution for paper or clothing, Billings really sees it as an opportunity to provide hope to people who may not want the high that comes along with the majority of medical cannabis. Though the first harvest was small, Billings is already thinking of ways to put hemp to use in the medical market. He wants to create CBD oils and tinctures that help medical patients. He’s already experienced a lot of health benefits thanks to hemp, and he’s hoping to pass that on to others.
Though hemp is different than what many people typically think of as medical cannabis, Billings is testing hemp strains that may have medical benefits. The difficulty comes from getting enough THC in the hemp plant to create an entourage effect. All hemp grown in the state must have less than 0.3 percent THC, a far cry from the medical marijuana plants that can contain upwards of 20 percent.
While Billings is passionate about the possibilities with hemp, the real problem quickly became apparent. There is no infrastructure available to process and distribute the plant. Hemp can’t be sent out of state for processing, and with no obvious options, The Colorado Hemp Project took matters into their own hands. Dani Billings, Bill’s daughter, started Nature’s Root, a company that makes hemp based beauty products. Right now the line is fairly small with a few scrubs, a lip balm, and a soothing salve, but there’s plenty of room to grow as the market expands.
Bill Billings also worked out a deal with some local natural grocers to carry whole hemp hearts in their stores. This relationship will likely grow as hemp expands, and expansion is on the horizon. Billings recently acquired a machine that separates out the different parts of the hemp plant. This gives him the ability to pull out the fibers that are important when it comes to making clothing and papers. These are items that are high in demand, but that no one can create just yet.
As many rush to cash in on what is being called the “green rush” so many people are ignoring the possibilities of hemp. Conventions and expos have booth after booth of companies eager to help dispensary owners create a better product but there are very few options connected to the hemp market. We’ve all heard about what hemp is capable of, but the minimal processing of recreational and medical marijuana creates a market with a much faster return and a much shorter turn around.
The machinery necessary to create the hemp products that we’ve heard so much about in the past few years isn’t in the state yet. Without the capital to build the infrastructure, Billings and other hemp farmers have a long road ahead of them. Fortunately, the hemp farming community is strong. Instead of the investors hoping to make a quick buck that cannabis has seen, many hemp farmers in the state of Colorado are long-time residents who have turned to hemp as a compliment to their many other crops. The plant is good for the soil and easy to grow, making it a tempting crop for anyone who has been farming for a long time.
Billings told me that though the hemp farmers aren’t working together, they are all looking out for one another. The community is supportive enough to share ideas, but everyone appears to be innovating on their own. What this means for hemp in the future is that there is sure to be a wide array of products from different sources. Billings and The Colorado Hemp Project are on the forefront but, at this point, the possibilities of hemp belong to whoever is willing to invest in the infrastructure to bring the dream of the plant to a reality.
June 2015 - A Letter to Our ReadersRead More
“The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life - mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical.”
This month marks four years since the idea of The Hemp Connoisseur was born. And what an amazing four years it has been. We have been privileged to be covering the Colorado cannabis industry during its most exciting times. As the pace of legalization has gained momentum so has our growth as a magazine. I find it fitting that after four years, much like a high school student after graduation, it is time for us to expand our horizons and leave the relative safety of our home base. It is with this in mind that I am proud to announce that THC Magazine will be publishing a national version in addition to our local issues starting October of this year.
In addition to this exciting development we have even bigger news. We have just partnered with Cannabis Network Radio to create Cannabis Media Source. We are truly honored to be forming this partnership. Cannabis Network Radio has consistently been rated in the top ten worldwide for cannabis podcasts. CNR also owns SiriusXM420 and is streamed live 24/7 on siriusxm420.com. We believe this partnership is the first of its kind, bringing two cannabis media veterans with over a decade of combined experience together.
So what can you expect from Cannabis Media Source? For starters we will be increasing programming on Cannabis Network Radio. We are already signing some amazing talent to host new shows. The cannabis industry, especially when talking about hemp and marijuana, is so vast and multifaceted. We think the programming we are planning for CNR will reflect the full spectrum required to represent every demographic of cannabis enthusiast. We will also be implementing a video broadcast division, which will include talk shows and regular news reports in the coming months. To celebrate the formation of CMS and the launch of the national issue, this September we will be holding our first annual hemp fashion show “Victory for Hemp.” There are of course a lot more projects in the works for Cannabis Media Source and we will be making more announcements over the next few months. So stay tuned.
Four years ago a vision was born. The first stage of the vision was a magazine, but that was never the complete scope of it. Becoming a multimedia company was always what we wanted. When I met Dave Kowalsky, CEO of Cannabis Network Radio, we realized that we both had the same vision. We both wanted a media company that would present cannabis culture in a mature and informative manner. Now, here we are at the cusp of something truly momentous in an already momentous industry.
This is going to be fun!
When it Comes to Hemp the Seeds of Change are Still Hard to Come ByRead More
by DJ Reetz
A year and a half into Colorado’s legal adult-use marijuana sales and the market is rolling along. With shops open and tax dollars pouring in, the marijuana market seems to be living up to the promises made by Amendment 64. But while the psychoactive and medicinal aspects of marijuana are being seen as a success by nearly everyone involved, the promise of domestically produced industrial hemp remains largely unfulfilled.
With no definitive source of seed, farmers in Colorado are still lacking the essential jumping off point to truly get the domestic hemp industry started. With the legal framework already laid out by Colorado’s Amendment 64 and codified federally by the recent passage of the Farm Bill, hemp farming on an agricultural scale remains on the cusp of realization in the state, yet the crucial issue of seed remains tantalizingly out of reach.
“Right now hemp is in the baby stages of certification,” says Rick Novak, Director of Seed Programs at Colorado State University. Currently, CSU is the designated recipient of hemp seed bound for Colorado from recognized foreign sources, where the university’s highly acclaimed agricultural department will begin the process of certifying seed for farmers to use.
For most crops, certified seed is an important facet of commercial farming. Certification means seed is recognized as safe to plant by the Department of Agriculture, indicating the seed has gone through the rigorous testing necessary to ensure it is free of disease and is not carrying any noxious weeds that would potentially overtake a farmer’s crop, and currently no such certification exists for hemp within the United States. This poses a problem for many farmers, who may be years away from being able to purchase and grow such seeds.
For certified seed to become a reality, the first step is importation of seed from recognized sources, such as Canadian and European seed breeders. If ownership and genetic lineage can be tracked, the imported seed begins life in the CSU Foundation Seed Lab, where plants can be tested to ensure they are under the legally mandated .3 percent THC threshold and for any genetic aberrations. Once the seed has been demonstrated to be safe for planting, the foundation level seeds can then be sold to farmers as registered seed, which will then be shipped to farmers all over the state. After successful harvest and inspection, the registered seed will be designated as certified, and can be sold as such, giving farmers access to seed that is demonstrated as viable and safe to plant.
The process is the same for all agricultural crops, the only real difference with hemp being the added regulation of THC levels, says Novak. “It doesn’t happen overnight as some people may think, and hemp won’t be much different,” he says.
For seed to be certified it must have a clearly identified genetic lineage and ownership. The seed must also have a clear variety detail, meaning plants grown from it must be botanically identifiable and unique beyond the simple fiber or seed variations that most people think of when it comes to industrial hemp.
“This is really the issue that the hemp industry has,” says Novak. “The problem going on right now is people have acquired seed from all over the world, we don’t know who owns what variety.”Without this clearly mapped out source, there is no path to certification, so farmers who have already planted and harvested hemp crops from smuggled or wild seed would not ever be able to have their seed certified, says Novak.
“A lot of people think, ‘Well I can go out to Kansas or Nebraska and I can harvest a plant and I can plant that,’” says Novak, but wild hemp will never be certified for this reason, and any seeds generated will never be marketable as such.
If these stringent requirements of ownership and lineage are established, the next step in the certification process is demonstrating to state officials that the seed in question will never yield plants with a THC level above .3 percent by weight when dry. For this, the seed will have to be tested in multiple environments throughout the state, as differing environmental factors can lead to different levels of THC. Test crops will need to be planted at different latitudes and elevations to ensure that the seeds will yield legal plants in any environment, a consequence of the extreme genetic variation within the cannabis species and the varying climate of the state.
When all these factors are considered, the timeline for certified seed to be available to farmers stretches years into the future.
“We know nothing in this state because we haven’t done the testing. Everything is what someone believes,” says Duane Sinning, Assistant Director of Plant Industries and Program Manager for Industrial Hemp with the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “Until we trial it here we really don’t know what’s best.”
“The earliest we could do inspections is minimum two, probably three years,” says Novak. However, Novak and Sinning both agree that if a foreign source could bring their established genetics to Colorado the certification process could be shaved down to two years, provided they are the recognized owners of the seed variety.
“Three years is what I would of told you two weeks ago,” says Sinning. “It could be sooner if somebody can take the risk.”
“In order to get up to speed you’re going to have to attract companies that are willing to do research and development into varieties,” says Novak. “The industry won’t be sustainable for a long period of time if it’s just a bunch of wild plant material.”
“In the mean time there’s nothing stopping [farmers] from growing or selling their crop,” says Novak.
“It doesn’t mean the industry stops, it just means it continues with some testing constraints,” says Sinning.
Some farmers in Colorado are already licensed and growing hemp, albeit without certified seed.
“I think it’s overemphasized,” Alfonso Abeyta, a fourth-generation farmer in the San Luis Valley who sits on the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Rules and Regulations Board and currently holds a license to grow hemp. Currently, Abeyta is growing uncertified seed, which carries a certain risk. “It’s a gamble it won’t grow,” he says, and it’s also a gamble that what’s being grown will have an acceptably low level of THC. “Right now, what we’re growing we’re testing on a monthly basis,” he says.
The continual testing of THC levels is something farmers wouldn’t have to deal with if they were to grow certified seed, says Sinning. Certified seed would provide not just an assurance of quality, but also allow regulators the assurance of acceptable levels of THC. But without certified seed, farmers are left to contend with regular testing and the possibility of planting a field of unusable and possibly diseased hemp.
“That’s a really scary part for farmers currently,” says Novak. In this regard, having access to certified seed would function as a form of crop insurance, guaranteeing that farmers would be able to grow a crop that they wouldn’t have to cut down prematurely due to rising THC levels as the plants develop. It would also mean a lesser burden on regulators, who wouldn’t be compelled to inspect crops, according to Sinning.
“If you’re growing certified seed you don’t have to worry about that,” says Sinning. “On a whole different level it means that the seed is free of noxious weeds and disease. It’s really to provide some safety for all other agriculture in the state […] Nothing would be worse than hemp having a pest and moving that around the state,” he says. “That would be a huge black eye for the industry.”
While farmers and agricultural scientists may view hemp as just another potential crop, the newly legal status of hemp poses some obvious challenges.
“It is a slow process, and really it’s because the DEA are used to drugs and they view this as a drug,” says Sinning. Problems with the importation of hemp seed have delayed the process, says Sinning, and that could push back large-scale industrial hemp farming. As of this writing there were no imported seeds held by the Colorado Department of Agriculture according to Sinning, which means nothing that would be headed to CSU to be used as foundation seed and nothing to be sold to farmers for registration and eventual certification.
However, the chokepoint of DEA oversight has been cleared, according to Sinning, and It’s just a matter of the routine inspection by Customs and Border Control officials for pests, disease and other potential biological contaminants.
“It’s going through the same checks as any other seed would,” says Sinning.
With any luck, the seed will have cleared these checks and already be in the ground by the time this article is in newsstands and the arduous process of crating reliable, certified hemp seed will have begun.
“There are still many hurdles to clear,” says Sinning. Hopefully the largest of these hurdles has been cleared, and domestically produced hemp on a truly agricultural scale will be possible in the next several years.
Hemp MaverickRead More
by DJ Reetz
Last month THC introduced you to our new Cultivation Editor, Bubba Kush. This month we continue that trend with a brief introduction of the man who will be our Hemp Editor, Bill Althouse. If you’ve heard the name before it’s likely in connection with his maverick work as a cannabis activist. He’s the man behind CBD Free for All, which made headlines when Althouse took to the streets in a bio-diesel limo to pass out cuts of the high-CBD strain known as Harlequin. Or maybe you heard of him during his campaign to get the state to regulate alcohol like marijuana, which lampooned some of the draconian regulations on marijuana and stigmas attached to its use. These days, Althouse is focused on developing a hemp coop known as Cannatech.
Althouse has always been ahead of the curve, both technologically and socially. In the 1970s he was one of the early few to work developing and installing solar arrays, back in the days before such technology was quite as well developed and efficient as it is now. His passion for alternative energy developed when he rigged a solar setup for his home in Santa Fe, removing it from the power grid. The self-taught solarist then began a career installing panels, which were only cost effective due to large state and federal tax credits, and helped with the design of the first economically viable solar array, which ironically enough was designed to protect oil pipelines from corrosion. However, with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the federal subsidies dried up, and Althouse was forced to move on. The proceeding years Althouse would work creating energy infrastructure for the film industry, and later move on to home and commercial energy science contracts — essentially creating environmentally friendly, energy efficient buildings.
But during his entire career, Althouse’s true passions lay with his home garden.
"Farming has always been an addiction," he says. "I don’t think I’m ever more happy than when I’m out in the garden."
The strong New Mexico sun had not only allowed Althouse the opportunity to take his home off the grid, it afforded him the opportunity for a bountiful home farm. He began to grow daffodils, and would engage in what he calls "flower roulette," which involved cruising around Santa Fe randomly giving out bouquets of his home grown flowers to strangers. Eventually, the hobby got to be too big to simply be a pastime and he started selling his flowers at the local farmer’s market along with a variety of strawberry that he had smuggled through customs from France.
Althouse’s green thumb and far-out lifestyle eventually attracted attention from the medical marijuana industry, and he was offered a job as a grower. It wasn’t his first experience with marijuana by any means. "I’ve always had an affinity for it," he says. During his solar career in the ‘70s, Althouse had helped establish a solar-powered irrigation network around the town of Madrid, New Mexico to distribute water to clandestine marijuana grows that were a staple of the small town. But this would be his first time working in full view of the law.
At the time, and still to this day, New Mexico’s medical marijuana program allowed referrals only in extreme, usually terminal cases.
"They were pretty much the people the medical world was trying to dump off of their responsibility," he recalls. Althouse had read a study conducted in Israel on the seemingly miraculous application of cannabidiol, and soon began honing his own genetics around the cannabinoid.
"They thought I was nuts," he recounts. Soon, Althouse found himself as one of the pioneering growers of high-CBD marijuana in the country, and was even featured in one of Mew Mexico’s most high profile newspapers. The attention had the unwanted effect of stoking the flames of profit in Althouse’s business partners. As the patient list soared, Althouse increasingly found himself pushed away from his ideologies, and he began to feel as though those truly in need were missing out, which eventually led him to part ways with the company.
"[The patients] lost their medicine because of the greed of the people I was working with," laments Althouse.
It wasn’t long before the promising political and social landscape of Colorado drew Althouse, and he began advocating for CBD treatment here
in the Centennial State. His current activism is a blending of all of his prior experiences, he says. "It’s kind of all blending back together from all the careers in the past," he says of the marriage of social progress, agriculture and environmentalism represented by his current work pulling together a hemp coop.
For Althouse, Colorado is in a unique position to lead the country in hemp production and application, even though the stifling power of prohibition has put domestic producers at least ten years behind those in places like Europe, he estimates. The agricultural and biotech powerhouse that is Colorado State University could be the epicenter of the hemp movement, he says, provided researchers aren’t threatened by a loss of federal funding as a result of working with the cannabis plant.
"CSU’s the killer asset," says Althouse. "There are some smart boys over there and they’re in chains."
As it stands now, Althouse says he sees some serious deficiencies hindering progress in domestic hemp, perhaps most notably in access to viable seeds. But with unfettered access to resources like CSU’s Foundation Seed Lab, Colorado could leapfrog over the mistakes of others.
It’s issues like this that Althouse hopes to raise awareness for during his tenure as THC’s Hemp Editor. Along with access to viable seed, Althouse says he hopes to bring awareness to the myriad applications of hemp, and the market for these applications, establishing Colorado as a forerunner for an industry that would be unknowably larger and more important had it not been derailed 80 some years ago.
Stay tuned to future issues of THC to see just what this maverick will bring to the magazine. Welcome aboard Bill.