Industrial hemp is not marijuana, not even close.
That’s the first lesson hemp growers on the Western Slope want everyone to learn.
Though the two plants look identical, hemp doesn’t have anywhere near the psychotropic compounds as marijuana, but it does have a lot of other uses.
And they can be profitable: Clothing, food, coffee, perfume, candles, and even potential medications, just to name a few of its marketable uses.
Like recreational marijuana, industrial hemp was made legal to grow and sell in Colorado under Amendment 64 in 2012.
Since then, the industrial hemp industry has grown exponentially in the state, becoming a multimillion dollar business with no end in sight for its potential in economic development, said Margaret Richardson, one of the owners of the Salt Creek Hemp Co. near Collbran.
“We do not want to do any kind of processing, that’s too much,” she said. “We want to do that first step on the supply chain by farming it, and, then we want to bring in people to this area to grow the economy that’s going to process it into products that can be used in other products.”
A Hemp Industries Association report release in May showed that nationwide, retail sales for hemp products in 2015 reached $575 million, which was a more than 10 percent increase from the prior year.
At the same time, the number of people in Colorado who are either growing the hemp plant or processing it into retail products have gone from zero in 2012 to nearly 200.
In the region alone, there now are more than 40 growers, with the bulk located in Delta County, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which registers and monitors the industry.
By law, the delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level of industrial hemp cannot exceed three-tenths of 1 percent on a dry weight basis. In comparison, the THC level of medical and recreational pot can be anywhere from 18 percent to 30 percent, or even higher, according to research done for the department.