The state of Colorado is the first to have legalized marijuana, but they are also now running a pilot program with industrial hemp. The “Hemp for Victory” plan will create jobs and increase tax revenue in the agricultural sector.

Colorado is trying to become the leader in industrial hemp. They are doing this by creating a trail race that will connect cities and towns across the state, all while promoting the benefits of industrial hemp.



“Hemp is everything, and my name is Jared Polis.”

Colorado’s governor used this statement to sign an order proclaiming June 6–13 Hemp Week in the Centennial State, and he’s betting his future on the much-maligned plant that has been forbidden to cultivate in the United States for almost 50 years.

This isn’t surprising coming from Polis. When he was in Congress in 2013, the Boulder native assisted a lobbyist in flying an American flag made from hemp produced in Colorado – which was illegal to cultivate in the United States at the time – over the United States Capitol on July 4th. Polis placed an exclamation point on his long-running attempts to promote cannabis by raising hemp-made American and Colorado flags above the state Capitol to celebrate the start of the newly designated Hemp Week.

Polis’ aim is clear: he wants his home state to be at the vanguard of bringing the crop back to the United States, which he thinks would assist farmers and stabilize the economy.

“That includes maintaining the administration’s emphasis on the small, family farmer, as well as a shared commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2040,” said Ean Seeb, the governor’s special advisor on cannabis.

Despite the governor’s and Patagonia’s enthusiastic backing, attempts to establish Colorado’s lush San Luis Valley into a worldwide hemp center have hit snags. The difficulties confronting attempts to resurrect manufacturing employment in rural America are the same as they are for hemp: equipment and technical skill sets are in short supply, and the often-complicated production processes are considerably cheaper in other countries.

However, there are an increasing number of reasons to be hopeful about industrial hemp’s future in Colorado. CBD is at the top of the list.

CBD, a non-psychoactive hemp extract, has become the darling of a burgeoning health craze, appearing in sodas, tinctures, lotions, dog treats, and other products. The Brightfield Group, a cannabis and CBD data forecaster, says that hemp-derived CBD sales in the United States totaled $4.7 billion in 2020 and that the industry would grow to $16 billion by 2025.

But CBD is only the beginning for hemp, which has been used for everything from vehicle chassis to textiles to paper (Polis’ business cards are printed on hemp material). The market for industrial hemp, including CBD, was valued at $5 billion in 2019 by research firm Facts and Factors, and it is expected to reach $36 billion by 2026.

Industrial hemp applications other than CBD are where the market has the most potential for expansion.

And it is here that the Polis government sees the opportunity for economic growth. It established the Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan (CHAMP), pledging to carry out large-scale efforts like as research, regulation, and pledges to processing facilities, as well as financial incentives for farmers who commit to the new sector.

“Colorado is a clear national leader in industrial hemp, and the CHAMP study will help us maintain that position. When the bill was first introduced in March, Polis said, “We want Colorado to continue to be the greatest state for industrial hemp, which will help our rural communities flourish.”

Defining fundamental standards

There’s just one issue. The United States no longer has the infrastructure or know-how to turn industrial hemp into goods, particularly textiles that need fine fibers, as it does with most manufacturing. Growing hemp, which contains only minimal amounts of psychoactive THC and is a victim of the crackdown on hippies’ recreational pot, has been banned in the United States since the enactment of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

That changed with the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, both championed by Polis, which permitted hemp to be cultivated lawfully in the United States as long as the THC level was less than 0.3 percent. THC levels in high-potency recreational marijuana flower may reach 30 percent, while THC levels in marijuana concentrates can reach 90 percent.

Because CBD is readily extracted from the plant leaves, those legislation paved the way for the CBD boom, but other applications, many of which involve processing hemp’s fibrous stalks, were left out. Even when it was illegal to produce industrial hemp in the United States, American manufacturers used it in their goods, importing it mostly from China, which grows 70% of the world’s hemp and has the infrastructure to make it a viable material.

“In the United States, hemp does not have big boy pants,” said Bill Althouse, founder of the Fat Pig Society, a tiny hemp agricultural cooperative in Colorado. “Before you can create an industry, you have to know how to lay a foundation.” And we’re missing that foundation.”

Beyond processing issues, U.S. hemp producers are still locked in committee attempting to agree on ASTM standards for hemp products, according to Althouse, who also serves on the Colorado Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Advisory Committee and the Hemp Center of Excellence Steering Committee. As a result, customers have no way of knowing whether or not producers’ claims regarding the quality and efficacy of hemp products are accurate.

Hemp is now in a backwater with ASTM, according to Althouse. “How do we replace a cotton T-shirt when we have no idea what the requirements are?” You must fulfill the criteria if you wish to play against cotton. You hear a lot of woe-is-me rhetoric from hemp supporters who think we’re out to get us, but they don’t hate us because we’re hemp. The issue is that we haven’t defined fundamental standards.”

Those setbacks haven’t discouraged Polis, who has worked hard to position Colorado as a leader in the recreational and medicinal marijuana industries in the United States. The ideal moment came in 2019 at the biennial Outdoor Retailer trade show in Denver to make industrial hemp for clothing a reality in the state. Patagonia, which has been utilizing Chinese hemp in their workwear line since 2017, assembled a committee to explore the potential of adopting American-grown hemp, and Seeb was among those who attended (his father, a Michigan-based retailer for the brand, tipped him off).

The Polis administration sent Patagonia a clear message: if it wanted American hemp, Colorado would go to any length to make it happen.

Hemp is a highly sustainable crop since it uses less water than cotton, grows quickly and densely, freeing up room for other lucrative crops, uses minimal pesticides, and even acts as a carbon sink, potentially reducing the impacts of climate change.

Patagonia, a certified B Corp that is required by its articles of incorporation to put environmental and social good ahead of profits, was set on using hemp because the crop is sustainable and the idea of reviving the U.S. hemp industry ticked all the boxes when it came to its compassionate corporate goals – but the Polis administration’s zeal caught them off guard.

“All we wanted was for people to get together and start exchanging notes and business cards,” said Ed Aumen, then-director of Patagonia’s workwear division. “However, Polis’ administration said that they would be willing to locate enough land in the state to conduct a test plot for the next season.”

Patagonia and Wright-Oakes Farms in the San Luis Valley were linked by Polis’ office for a 500-acre tract. The high, dry valley is ideal for hemp, which can thrive with less water and at greater altitudes than other crops. However, the project ran into the same problem as previous industrial hemp efforts in the United States: the necessary infrastructure and expertise to cultivate hemp no longer exist. Decortication, the process of stripping raw hemp down to the usable fibers, is not available to American growers. They don’t even have the seeds to produce hemp at a height of 7,500 feet.

Fortunately, Patagonia’s Chinese hemp supplier, who was there at the Denver conference, stepped in and supplied the seeds (it turned out that the Chinese farm is at the same altitude as the San Luis Valley). The supplier also said that it will offer knowledge and even ship necessary hemp harvesting equipment to Colorado. Patagonia would then ship the processed hemp to China, where it would be made into workwear. Then came COVID-19.

“So he couldn’t transport the machinery,” Aumen, who left Patagonia in June, said. “However, they managed to track down a decortication machine in Colorado. It’s perplexing to me that someone would sit on something like that, yet they did. We were soon zooming back and forth between the Chinese textile factory and the farmer in southern Colorado.”

Polis even went to Wright-Oakes farm, wearing a cowboy hat and inspecting the crop himself. Wright-Oakes Farms had 500 acres of hemp by harvest, which it kept in a shed while Patagonia shipped samples to China to be tested in equipment and processed into a fiber that can be spun into a yarn and fashioned into Patagonia garments.

Patagonia intends to start selling workwear produced with American hemp in the next several years, perhaps as soon as 2023, and is still working with farmers in the San Luis Valley. Despite the fact that it will still be manufactured in China, it will be the first clothing made from hemp grown in the United States, from the country’s first legal industrial hemp growing business.

Patagonia recognized the importance of hemp as a textile years ago, and the state will continue to collaborate with anybody who shares our objectives, according to Seeb.

By 2022, there will be six hemp manufacturing projects.

Althouse, on the other hand, was not impressed. He viewed the initiative as more of a show of good faith than a genuine step forward for Colorado farmers.

He claims that “you have to make hemp work for the farmer, not just the investor.” “Fortune 500 corporations may come up with crazy ideas, yet they sometimes seem to think farmers labor for nothing.”

And he believes that exporting hemp to Asia will not help the business advance.

“Beyond decortication, there is additional processing in China,” he explains. “Getting hemp fiber to function in clothing is a very unpleasant chemical process, and that’s not permitted in the United States – for good reason.”

As a result, hemp is encountering the same issue that most attempts to resurrect American industry do: the infrastructure is long gone, and production is just more cost effective abroad.

Polis’ team is working to change the American manufacturing paradigm, at least when it comes to hemp, with a hemp management plan in hand and a proposal to the USDA. Seeb’s department has established a WIG, or Wildly Important Goal, to support and develop six initiatives in the state by June 30, 2022, in order to create new hemp processing capacity for industrial uses.

“The hemp sector has potential to grow by extending the supply chain beyond CBD to include additional industrial hemp processors in Colorado, which will also generate local jobs,” Seeb added. “The Polis administration wants to help the industrial hemp industry mature by increasing processing capacity for industrial hemp uses in Colorado, which will benefit both farmers and processors by creating new economic opportunities.”

With that kind of infrastructure in place, companies like Patagonia would be able to cultivate hemp, spin it into yarn, and make all-American workwear in Colorado. The state has yet to hear back on the specifics of the plan it submitted to the USDA in August and is unwilling to share it at this time.

“It’s a forward-thinking strategy, the result of hundreds of hours of effort by a committed team that shared the governor’s goal. “In the future, we expect to have information to share,” Seeb added.

Any strategy must contain a guarantee that hemp will be lucrative and sustainable in the long run, from the farmers’ viewpoint. Why should farmers, who are always in a perilous place trying to make a living off the land, commit to hemp – even if it is better for the environment in many ways – if they can make more money with traditional crops? Big, sustainable ideas from brands may resonate with consumers and push for a better planet, but why should farmers, who are always in a perilous place trying to make a living off the land, commit to hemp – even if it is better for the environment in many

“If you want to see hemp in the ground, guarantee that it pays more than wheat, corn, or soy,” says Althouse, who also wants planners to get creative in solving problems like processing and look for ways to use plant parts like lignin, a sticky, difficult-to-remove polymer that must be stripped from hemp fiber before it can be spun into yarn.

Seeb believes he and the Polis administration are developing a hemp business model and seeing it as a potential answer in the battle against climate change.

“In Colorado, the sky is the limit for hemp,” Seeb said, “and we look forward to assisting our agricultural sector in thriving now and for future generations.” The governor has talked publicly about Colorado’s hemp future. And we established important deliverables in our CHAMP strategy. No one is immune to the economic consequences of climate change and the drought that is destroying the West, and the Polis government is taking measures to alleviate those consequences and plan for the future.”

When he proclaimed Hemp Week and brandished his cannabis flags, the governor made it plain. To his government, industrial hemp is everything, and he is determined to make it a part of the answer to everything from climate change to pandemic recovery.

The “Colorado becoming the leader in industrial hemp?” is a question that has been asked many times. Colorado actually passed legislation to allow for the growth of industrial hemp, but the state has not yet created regulations for it. Reference: hemp stock.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who regulates industrial hemp?

A: The US federal government.

Which state is the largest producer of hemp?

A: I am sorry to say that this particular question is currently unavailable.

Who oversees the cultivation of hemp?

A: The Canadian government.

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