CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Ryan Loflin, who lives in Crested Butte, returned to his roots recently in southeastern Colorado. There, near the town of Springfield, he began planting what is believed to be the first hemp grown in the United States in 60 years.
While legal in Canada, U.S. federal law bans production of hemp, which contains trace quantities of THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana. However, Colorado voters have been thumbing their collective noses at the federal government. The new state constitutional amendment adopted last November legalizes possession of marijuana, but also production in small quantities. It also allows production of hemp without limitation.
Springfield, the setting for this 21st century precedent, in no way resembles the popular, John Denverish image of Colorado. Some of the worst storms of the Dust Bowl occurred here. It's a half-hour from Oklahoma and Kansas, just a little farther to New Mexico, and even Texas is just 129 kilometres away.
Loflin, 40, left Springfield for a career in construction, and the Crested Butte News says he has had many enterprises there. Earlier this year, he began growing 450 hemp plants at his shop and imported 70 pounds of seed from Europe.
With this, Loflin and a business partner planted a quarter-acre of hemp last week, and the seeds are already coming up, he reports. By June, he hopes to have planted 66 to 70 acres.
"Things around here have been hurting," he told the Crested Butte News, describing his boyhood hometown. "I really think hemp production could be one of the things that brings an economic recovery to rural Colorado, and next spring I think more people will be planting it."
Blistered by drought, eastern Colorado has suffered in recent years. Hemp only needs 20 centimetres of water, but it does better in 25 to 36 centimetres. The average precipitation there is 43 centimetres. Too, hemp doesn't need fertilization or pesticides.
One major question is just how much flouting of federal law drug agents will tolerate by Coloradans. Banks have refused to float loans to retail dispensaries, for fear of harmful repercussions to their access to the federal banking system. For much the same reasons, Colorado State University has refused to conduct research that could help promote hemp. The school fears loss of federal research dollars.
Loflin told the News that he doesn't worry much about federal drug agents stalking his plot. Too much else is in play, including larger cultivation of marijuana with high concentrations of THC. "I doubt they'll bother with a little hemp growing operation," he says.
But if the crop gets harvested, Loflin and his partner will have buyers. Whole Foods, the national grocer, has contracted to buy seed from 50 acres. Oil constitutes 30 to 35 per cent of seeds, by weight, and contains high concentrations of essential fatty acids Another 10 acres of seed is earmarked for Dr. Bronner's, a line of hemp-infused body-care products.