Hemp has the potential to become a multi-billion-dollar business in Colorado and 2015 could be the breakthrough year when the industry begins its dramatic growth in the state, says Kev Paiss, executive director of the year-old Rocky Mountain Hemp Association.
“The people who understand the potential of hemp are extremely excited,” Paiss added during a recent conversation with SativaCOMM.
The key to whether 2015 will be a breakthrough year for the industry, he said, is congressional approval of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015. Despite the gridlock that’s gripped Congress in recent years, Paiss is “very optimistic that we’re actually going to get it passed through Congress this year.”
Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana use by people over 21 also legalized the growing of hemp in the state. But, like marijuana, hemp remains illegal under federal law. So it’s illegal to bring hemp seeds across state boundaries. The bill pending in Congress would remove that legal barrier and open the door for dramatic growth in the amount of hemp grown and harvested in the state.
Used in more than 25,000 different products, “industrial hemp is definitely a crop,” Paiss said. “It is not a drug.”
Hemp has been used for thousands of years to make fabrics, rope, sails and canvas. The oils are used in food, cosmetics and medicine. And the stalks are used for building materials, bedding, insulation and even car parts. You can use it to make pretty much anything but glass or metal, Paiss said.
“The focus right now,” he said, “is to create a home-grown industry that allows us to grow and process here. Most of the manufacturers I know would love to use domestically grown product.” That would mean a huge growth in employment for farmers and at processing and manufacturing facilities.
There are two major concerns for now, Paiss said: Difficulty obtaining the seeds needed to grow hemp at an industrial scale and the legal uncertainties created by federal law.
Once those barriers are removed, Paiss predicted it will take three to five years “to get a really good stabilized seed. And we’re looking for a number of seeds: One that produces lots of seed, one that produces really good oil, one that produces appropriate fiber, one that may be high in CBD for use as medicine.”
“The marijuana industry is growing quite rapidly, a lot of money is being invested in it,” Paiss noted. “We’re starting to see people who have been involved in the cannabis world, in the marijuana world, wanting to know how than can transition to hemp.”