May 2, 2014 Updated: May 2, 2014 at 7:37 pm
Four businesses and individuals who want to grow industrial hemp in El Paso and Teller counties submitted applications to the Colorado Department of Agriculture by Thursday's deadline, a first step for a potential new industry set in motion by state voters when they approved the legalization of recreational marijuana.
A total of 136 applications statewide were received by the Agriculture Department, according to the agency. That number could rise if applications postmarked on Thursday trickle in over the next few days, agency spokeswoman Christi Lightcap said Friday.
Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 in November 2012, which legalized recreational marijuana use and sales. That measure also permitted the cultivation of industrial hemp, which can be used to make soap, lotions, oils, fiber, paper, construction materials and other products. Advocates argued that hemp production could add jobs and boost the state's economy.
The Agriculture Department adopted rules for hemp production, and established a March 1-to-May 1 window for applications. The forms include whether the applicants' operations will be for research and development or commercial purposes - the two authorized uses.
"We, from an agricultural standpoint, want to give our producers, our farmers, every opportunity to choose what it is they want to cultivate," Ron Carleton, the state's deputy agriculture commissioner, said Friday.
Cannabis Textiles Inc., a company that lists a Fountain address, submitted the lone El Paso County application, seeking to grow hemp for commercial purposes.
In Teller County, Joel and Jared Stanley - brothers who are part of a family that already grows marijuana for medical purposes - submitted hemp production applications for both research and development and for commercial purposes.
HICO, a limited liability company, and Matthew T. Kahl each submitted research-and-development applications for Teller County.
The Agriculture Department has approved the Stanleys' applications. The other three applications are being reviewed.
None of the applicants could be reached for comment.
Under state rules, applicants must apply annually to grow hemp. The commercial production fee is $200 a year, plus $1 per acre; the research and development fee is $100 annually, along with $5 an acre.
Hemp producers will be restricted to plants that have no more than a 0.3 percent level of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana plants. Regulators will randomly sample up to one-third of the state's hemp fields to insure plants don't exceed the limit, Carleton said.
But even with the state's OK, growers still face hurdles. Under Colorado rules, industrial hemp must be processed inside the state before it's exported, Carleton said. How many processing facilities might be available for producers isn't known, he said.
And commercial hemp production remains illegal under federal law. While the U.S. Department of Justice has issued guidelines that could reduce the chance of federal officials coming after Colorado's commercial producers, they still need to obtain hemp seeds, Carleton said. State officials are seeking federal Drug Enforcement Administration approval to allow Colorado producers to obtain federally certified seeds, he said. Those discussions "are ongoing," but there's no guarantee where they'll lead, Carleton added.
It's possible some Colorado producers already have obtained hemp seeds, "but I can't speculate where they got it," he said.