Industrial hemp grows on a Colorado farm field.

(Courtesy Colorado Department of Agriculture)

Industrial hemp will not get you high. But this emerging crop still suffers from guilt by association with its psychotropic cousin cannabis. In truth, only a fraction differentiates the two. Industrial hemp must have THC levels below 0.3 percent. If the content of the psychoactive ingredient THC rises above that, what was an industrial farm crop becomes a field of marijuana in the eyes of the law. Toeing that line adds an element of risk for hemp farmers  -- risk that goes beyond the hail and bug worries of most crops. 

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has been working for several years to develop certified seed that will remove some of that risk.  It is being researched and tested to ensure it has very low THC.  But that seed will not be ready yet for Colorado planters who are expected to sow about 15,000 acres of hemp in the state this year.  It will be another risky year for hemp, following a year when 25 percent of the crop had to be destroyed for creeping above the limit.

But industrial hemp is gaining one new protection this year.  SB-117 is on the governor's desk for signing. That bill, authored by new hemp grower and state Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, ensures the federal government can't deny hemp growers access to water from federal reclamation projects.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture also is continuing to work on hemp education in an effort to affect other hemp-related problems like a lack of access to crop insurance and to federal  farm loans.

Colorado Matters Host Nathan Heffel interviews the agriculture department's industrial hemp program director Duane Sinning.

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