Colorado Springs supplier looks to expand production of popular hemp oil

February 16, 2017 Updated: February 16, 2017 at 6:48 pm
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Whole Hemp Company, which does business as Folium Biosciences, previously grew hemp plants at its eastside Colorado Springs location, as shown in this 2014 photo. The business has moved hemp cultivation to La Junta, in southeast Colorado. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette.

A Colorado Springs company that bills itself as one of the nation's largest hemp oil suppliers wants to more than quadruple the size of its local operation to accommodate a rapidly growing market for its products.

Whole Hemp Company, which does business as Folium Biosciences, cultivates and develops hemp near La Junta in southeast Colorado.

The harvested and dried product is transported to a 10,000-square-foot oil extraction plant at Folium's headquarters at 828 Wooten Road, between Platte Avenue and Galley Road, on the Springs' east side, where it produces hemp oil that's sold to wholesale customers globally. Its products are used for health and wellness, personal care and pet health, among other applications, the company says.

Now nearly 3 years old, Folium says it has outgrown its current space and wants to lease an additional 45,000 square feet in a nearby building at 615 Wooten, according to a proposal it's submitted to the city's Land Use Review Division. Most of the additional space would be used for hemp oil extraction, while it also would accommodate storage and offices.

Besides adding more space, Folium would increase its workforce to 50 people from 20, said Raj Gupta, Folium's chief scientific officer. About half of the new jobs would be skilled-labor positions - chemists, engineers and managers whose salaries would average more than $100,000 a year. The hemp oil process, in effect, is a high-tech manufacturing operation that requires employees with advanced skills, Gupta said.

Folium is a privately held company, and Gupta declined to disclose sales figures. But he said the company is doing well, and expects to be a "significant player" in an industry where sales of hemp products could eventually be in the "tens of billions of dollars." One hemp industry trade group, the California-based Hemp Industries Association, estimated the U.S. retail market for all hemp products at $573 million in 2015.

"Our sales are doing well, revenue is increasing rapidly," Gupta said. "There's so much pent-up demand for our products."

The growth and cultivation of hemp became legal in Colorado when state voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012. While the amendment is widely known for permitting recreational marijuana sales in the state, it also legalized hemp production.

Hemp and marijuana are derived from the same plant, known as cannabis. The big difference, however, is their chemical makeup; at most, hemp contains only a trace of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the substance that gives marijuana users a high. A cannabis plant with more than 0.3 percent THC is legally classified as marijuana.

Gupta said Folium focuses on the "medicinal aspects" of hemp. According to the proposal submitted to city planners, the company uses solvents to extract oil from hemp and purifies the product to create phytocannabinoid-rich hemp that is "completely devoid" of THC.

"The CBD-rich hemp oil is used for pain management, anxiety, sleep disorder, PTSD, cancer treatment, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's," Folium says. Meanwhile, parents of epileptic children have said that CBD-rich oils can reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, and families have flocked to Colorado seeking it, according to stories in The Gazette and other publications.

Folium hopes to move into its new facility in May, Gupta said. It's seeking approval of a development plan, use variance and conditional-use permit to allow for its expansion.

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