Uncertainty Dominates New Hemp Market
by Kristen Wyatt and Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press;
STERLING, Colo. – Marijuana’s square cousin, industrial hemp, has come out of the black market and is now legal for farmers to cultivate, opening up a lucrative new market. That was the idea, anyway.
Would-be hemp farmers are having mixed success navigating red tape on everything from seed acquisition to processing the finished plant. It will take years, farmers and regulators agree, before there’s a viable market for hemp.
Hemp is prized for oils, seeds and fiber, but its production was prohibited for five decades because the plant can be manipulated to enhance a psychoactive chemical, THC, making the drug marijuana.
The farm bill enacted this year ended decades of required federal permission to raise hemp, but only with state permission and checks to make sure the hemp doesn’t contain too much THC.
2 states try it
Fifteen states have removed barriers to hemp production, though only two states are forging ahead this year: Colorado and Kentucky. Both struggled to get their nascent hemp industries off the ground.
“We’re just going to try and see if this works,” said Jim Brammer, a Colorado alfalfa and hay farmer who acquired one of the state’s 114 licenses to raise hemp.
Brammer agreed to let activists try the crop on a single acre of land in exchange for a cut of the proceeds, if any materialize. He’s not optimistic.
“If it comes in nice, then great. If not, then at least we tried something new,” he said.
And U.S. farmers won’t even be able to tap the hemp market without federal authorities removing barriers to seed acquisition.
Kentucky’s first industrial hemp plantings were delayed for much of May, when federal authorities ordered nearly 300 pounds of hemp seeds from Italy detained by U.S. customs officials in Louisville.
State agriculture authorities sued the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Attorney General Eric Holder to seek the seeds. The DEA eventually relented, issuing a permit to allow limited hemp plantings for research in Kentucky.
Back in Colorado, there’s been no federal help acquiring seeds, despite a letter from Gov. John Hickenlooper this year requesting permission to import Canadian hemp seeds. Instead, Colorado authorities are taking a don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach.
Brammer got his seeds from hemp-legalization activists who won’t say where they got them. Colorado farmers without such a connection are either buying black-market seeds for as much as $10 each or giving up entirely on growing hemp for now.
“I don’t have an ounce of seed, and I’m not going to the black market to get it,” said John Lappart, who grows wheat and millet in Holyoke. He was awarded a hemp-cultivation license and planned to try the crop on 8 acres but abandoned the idea.