(Colorado's) Amendment 64, in addition to legalizing the use and sale of recreational marijuana, also authorized the growing of hemp -- at least in theory.
Grown widely by our ancestors in America, hemp has a remarkable number of uses. Its seeds and fibers can be used in cosmetics, soaps, oils, foods, textiles and even building materials. The plant is still grown in Canada, where it frequently earns more per acre than wheat.
Hemp contains virtually no THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people high, but the two plants look just alike. In outlawing the cultivation of marijuana, it made sense to restrict hemp growing as well because it was too easy for someone to slip pot plants into a hemp field.
But with the legalization of recreational pot in Colorado, and the federal government's statement that it would essentially not bust the marijuana industry, you might assume there'd now be no problem growing hemp, pot's non-intoxicating cousin.
Yet in the United States, even in pot-friendly Colorado, federal law is still in the way.
Federal law bans the sale of non-sterile hemp seeds, making it pretty hard to start a hemp farm. Other laws prevent farmers from getting government-backed crop insurance, and there are still forfeiture laws on the books that could result in a farmer losing his or her land for growing hemp.
Despite these obstacles, some farmers, like Ryan Loflin in Baca County, are trying to cultivate the plant. Loflin this year grew one of the first commercial-sized crops of hemp in America in decades and said he's still turning away buyers who want his plants.
Meanwhile, the owner of a San Diego-based company says he can't build a hemp-seed oil processing plant in the San Luis Valley until farmers have assurance they can get starter seeds.
In fact, 10 states now have industrial hemp laws that conflict with federal drug laws, including states as far apart in temperament as California and Kentucky.
Farmers in all these states will continue to find it difficult to grow hemp -- and create badly needed jobs -- if the federal government does not make it clear, in writing, that hemp is a legal crop.