DENVER, Colorado — Prohibited by the government for years, hemp is now becoming a major economic boon for Colorado.
“I think we're coming in at like 80 acres here," said Casey Brooks, farm manager for Nature’s Root and the Colorado Hemp Project.
You could call it Colorado's new cash crop.
“The possibilities are endless,” Brooks said. “Now’s the time.”
Brooks and his team are mulching this week and getting ready to plant this season's hemp crop. Nature’s Root now has more than 1,000 acres of hemp in Colorado – a number growing year after year.
Hemp is blossoming into a multi-million-dollar industry in Colorado.
“From rope to clothing to food," Brooks said.
And many of those products are being developed locally.
"It's so good,” said Dani Fontaine Billings as she sampled a CBD-infused pro-biotic kefir. “It’s just really good for your gut. It re-heals it. It goes in and cleans out whole lining of your stomach.”
Billings is the owner of Nature’s Root, a hemp product development company that now has a store front and spa in Longmont.
"We have lotions that actually don't carry any CBD at all," Billings said.
Nature’s Root develops and sells a number of body care products. Some of the most popular items include lotions, body scrubs, chap sticks and muscle topical creams.
“That stuff is amazing for muscle recovery if you have an injury or just some soreness,” Billings said. “In my opinion, I think hemp is one of the best things to hit Colorado."
It’s important to make the distinction – hemp is not marijuana.
"There's virtually no THC. You can't get high,” said Morris Beegle, the event producer for the Colorado Hemp Company, which organizes the largest annual hemp expo in Colorado. “You can’t get euphoric from it.”
In fact, the expo has outgrown its space outside Loveland and is moving to a larger venue in metro Denver next year.
“From a botanist’s point of view, it's the same genus and species as marijuana,” said Duane Sinning, the director of planned industries for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “The difference is the chemical make-up inside the plant."
Sinning says in 2014, there were 1,400 acres of registered hemp in Colorado.
Last year, there were 17,000 acres.
“It’s an explosion,” Sinning said. “That’s the best way to describe it. Now we are at over 600 farmers participating, at almost 750 locations."
At the moment, it’s only legal to grow hemp in Colorado and a handful of other states. But it's becoming more mainstream.
Most notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced a bill this year to legalize hemp nationwide and remove it from the list of controlled substances. McConnell said he wants to "empower American farmers to explore this promising new market."
“This is really the most genetically diverse plant on the planet,” Beegle said. “There are thousands of varieties that can produce food, fiber, housing."
To call it a cash crop might be an understatement.
"Farmers need a good crop that's valuable," Billings said.
It can make farmers anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 an acre.
"We've shown these farmers that we can help make them more money than their traditional corn they've been doing," Brooks said. “This hemp movement, it's a powerful wave at the moment."