Hemp: The Forgotten Man of Legalization
When Colorado legalized pot it also legalized hemp, adding complexity to the legal situation.
Debate over Colorado's legalization of marijuana often overlooks one piece of the puzzle. When Colorado legalized pot it also legalized hemp, allowing for the possibility of a new cash crop. Hemp and marijuana look extremely similar and belong to the same family, but hemp has only a fraction of the THC, marijuana's active ingredient. In short, marijuana makes you high and hemp only makes you money—as well as, reportedly, anything from rope, paper and clothing to shoe polish, car parts and dog toys. Colorado farmer Michael Bowman says that his neighbors are unaware of the difference: "When they hear that we're growing hemp, they think we're growing marijuana." He plans to plant 100 acres of hemp on his 3,000-acre farm this spring. "We think 100 acres is a good number," he says. "It's not a garden plot, and it's enough to have enough product at the end of the day that we can do something real with it." Bowman plans to turn his first crop into an edible oil. But as special agent Paul Roach of the DEA notes, federal law doesn't distinguish between hemp and marijuana. "It really doesn't matter whether it looks different or it looks the same," he says. "If it's the cannabis plant, it's in the Controlled Substances Act and, therefore, enforceable under drug law." The US is the only industrialized country in the world that bans hemp; it's also the largest consumer of hemp products, with total sales estimated at around $450 million. The Colorado Legislature is giving itself until July 2014 to figure out how to regulate hemp.