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Colorado growers experiment with hemp

11:13 PM, Apr 23, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - The Colorado Senate recently did what the voters asked, passing SB241. 

Senate Bill 241 would legalize growing of industrial hemp in Colorado.

That vote was unanimous, but the bill still needs to pass the House.

In a warehouse North of Denver in Lafayette, 9NEWS toured a small operation growing about a dozen hemp plants.

The plants are Cannabis sativa, the same species as some marijuana plants, but this would be the marijuana equivalent of non-alcoholic beer.

When grown to produce an intoxicating drug, the plant's weight is typically five to 15 percent THC. By definition, industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent of the drug.

"It'd be like smoking cabbage," Erik Hunter with non-profit group HempCleans said. "You'd get a taste in your mouth and nothing else. You wouldn't get high."

Because of the trace amounts of THC, hemp remains illegal to grow under federal law.

That wasn't always the case.

A 1942 film title "Hemp for Victory" was produced by the US Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to grow more hemp crops for the war effort.

The stalks of hemp plants contain fibers that are useful in textiles and rope.

Without textile mills geared for hemp production, Colorado's first hemp crops will likely be harvested for hemp seeds.

Seeds can be pressed for oil, used whole in food, or ground into meal. The THC is eliminated in processing.

"Nobody has ever failed a drug test from eating hemp seeds," Hunter said.

There have been concerns that the low amount of THC in hemp could be concentrated into a drug-grade material, or that hemp crops could be used to disguise fields of drug-grade marijuana.

The bill working through Colorado's legislature would require hemp farmers to register and pay a fee with the state to cover mandatory sampling of plants. Farmers would also need to show they have an agreement with an in-state processor who will take the crops.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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