With recreational marijuana now legal in Colorado, small-scale pot shops will open up soon in places like Denver and Boulder. But that’s not the only business that could get a boost: Large-scale commercial farmers may also be in line to benefit.
Why? When Colorado voters legalized marijuana last November, they also legalized hemp.
As plants, marijuana and hemp look related, and they are. But while marijuana is bred to get its users high, hemp is all business — grown for food and other everyday uses. Hemp contains very little of the chemical THC, the active ingredient in pot.
That might be news to farmer Michael Bowman’s neighbors. “When they hear that we’re growing hemp, they think we’re growing marijuana,” he says.
Bowman is from Wray, a small town on the eastern Colorado plains. He thinks hemp needs some rehabilitation and that he’s the man to do it.
A Wonder Crop?
Bowman will plant 100 acres of hemp this spring on his 3,000-acre farm, where the winter wind now whips across barren wheat and corn fields.
“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.”
To hear him and other activists tell it, hemp can be used to make just about anything: rope, paper, plastic, clothing, shoe polish, car parts and even dog chew toys — to name just a few of the possibilities.
Bowman says he’ll turn his first crop into an edible oil. “Our goal is really to try to understand: Is this a viable crop? Getting the research and data gathered this year will be a good step one,” he says.
When asked if it’s a political experiment as much as an agricultural one, Bowman says: “It’s probably more of a political experiment at this point.”