Colorado hemp program draws interests, creates questions for Wyo producersWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – The agriculture industry across the state of Wyoming has questioned the viability of industrial hemp following legalization of marijuana in Colorado, and the Wyoming Weed Management Rendezvous welcomed Colorado Department of Agriculture’s (CDA) Duane Sinning from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to their January meeting to discuss the many things he has learned over the past two years.
“Colorado Department of Agriculture handles pesticide use on all cannabis, and I can explain how our program works,” Sinning said.
Per the legislation allowing Cannabis to be grown in Colorado, Sinning emphasized that CDA has jurisdiction over pesticide use on Cannabis but only has jurisdiction over cultivation in industrial hemp. The agency handles registration, compliance reports, inspection and sampling for industrial hemp.
“We establish rules for commercial production and research and development,” he continued. “We also set fees because the program is mandated to be self-funded.”
Rules require registrants to submit an application 30 days prior to planting. The application must also include GPS coordinates and a map showing the location of planting. Ten days after planting, applicants must also allow for inspection and sampling, including the associated fees.
Registration costs $500, plus five dollars per acre outdoors or 33 cents per 1,000 square foot indoors. Inspections cost $35 per hour, plus 25 cents a mile and $150 per sample taken.
In addition, Sinning said, “Those who elect to grow hemp have precluded themselves from growing marijuana on the land area they register to grow hemp.”
Sinning noted that in the first year, 2014, 252 applications to grow industrial hemp were submitted to CDA. Of those, 119 were for commercial production, and 133 were for research and development.
“They covered 1,811 acres, but the majority of those acres were never planted,” he said. “We estimated that 200 acres were harvested.”
The difference in acres on applications and actual planted acreage are a result from a lack of seed availability and lack of agronomic practices, but one of the biggest reasons was a desire by people who never intended to plant but wanted a certificate that said they could grow hemp for the first time after years of federal prohibition, Sinning explained.
For 2015, there were more than 165 applications, he said, with almost 3,800 acres outdoor production and 675,000 square feet of indoor space. All in all, around 2,200 acres of actual hemp was grown in 2015.
In addition, applicants for research and development went from 133 to 18 from 2014 to 2015, a reflection of how CDA defined registrations and the move to commercial registrations in the process.
“We test a significant portion of the acres,” Sinning said, noting that approximately 55 percent of acres were tested last year. “We also make an effort to verify that someone who tells us they didn’t plant is truthful. We check on those areas as well as areas we select for sampling.”
In addition, he noted that sampling for delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content had only an eight percent failure rate.
“When they failed the test, that means the plants had a THC content of higher than 0.3 percent,” Sinning explained. “In two years, only two have gone over one percent.”
If THC content exceeds 0.3 percent THC but is not over one percent, producers can get a waiver for violating the law if they destroy the crop on-site in a manner that is verifiable. The plant cannot enter the stream of commerce, and it must not be used for human consumption.
Samples of 90,000 square feet of indoor growing space showed a 96 percent pass rate.
“We have found that THC content outdoors is higher than that of plants grown indoors,” he said. “A big part of indoor production is starting young plants before taking them outside. Indoor production is also used for breeding new varieties and production of cannabidiol (CBD) strains. ”
Since the program started in 2014, Sinning commented that some changes have been seen.
“In 2014, many people didn’t know what they were doing,” he said, noting that experience growing cannabis illegally in basements didn’t translate well to large-scale production. “Very often growers were undercapitalized, as well.”
At the same time, outdoor production increased in 2015 by ten fold over 2014, and indoor production exploded.
“2015 has seen improved agronomic practices applied to the crop and investors and venture capitalist exploring the market opportunities,” he added.
“Greenhouse companies are seeing a boom,” Sinning commented.
He said that industrial hemp has a variety of uses, ranging from coffees and teas to insulation, body oils and ointments. Other textiles are also produced from hemp.
Sinning noted that Colorado’s program is in its infancy, and it will continue to evolve as it moves forward.
“We will be starting variety trials to look at THC levels is different areas,” he said.
He added that every state has a very different Cannabis landscape based on laws, rules and regulations, as well as the environment.
“What we may be doing in Colorado may never work in Wyoming or anywhere else and vice versa,” Sinning said.
The other major challenge that CDA has seen, he explained, is in pesticide regulations.
“Pesticides are regulated under federal and state laws using labeling,” Sinning explained. “It isn’t different from any other crop.”
However, Cannabis is particularly challenging because very few pesticides are labeled for use in Cannabis.
“There are some standards for tolerance or exempt for those crops intended for food,” he said. “Those standards are set by the Environmental Protection Agency according to the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. It defines how much residue can be left on or in the crop without posing a health threat.”
While a few pesticides have recently been labeled for use in hemp, nothing is labeled specifically for marijuana, Sinning continued, also noting that to date, no risk assessments have been conducted on pesticide use on Cannabis.
“EPA also requires a pyrolysis study to be conducted during risk assessments,” he said, explaining that the studies observe the impacts of burning.
Sinning also noted that the volume and variety of edibles containing Cannabis in Colorado create more concern. With edibles, the Cannabis is concentrated, meaning that any pesticide residues would also be concentrated.
“Pesticides can be used for products intended for human consumption only if expressly labeled for that use,” Sinning explained. “It has to have that label language, though.”
Future of cannabis
Looking to the future, Sinning noted that the program has thus far dramatically exceeded expectations, but he sees some potential for the crop.
“We’ve heard that hemp uses one-third to one-half the water that corn does,” he said, also noting that the local aspect of hemp production is appealing for many.
“I think there is room for discussion about the future of hemp,” Sinning said, “but this is a hard program to administer because of a lack of guidance from the federal government.”