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Industrial hemp seed certified, CSU-Pueblo hosts marijuana research



Next growing season, hemp farmers will have a more secure option. - COURTESY RYAN LOFLIN
  • Courtesy Ryan Loflin
  • Next growing season, hemp farmers will have a more secure option.

Picture this: You're a farmer who invests a bunch of time and money in a new crop. You plant it, irrigate it, watch it grow tall then harvest it. Then, state agriculture officials come by to test your crop. Starting to sound strange? That's because the crop in question is industrial hemp.

Now, imagine those test results come back showing a THC content higher than .3 percent. Sure, you'd have to smoke bowls ad infinitum to actually get high, but still, the plant is technically considered marijuana, which you're not licensed to grow, so you have to scrap it all at a loss.

Do not pass GO; do not collect $200.

Such a scenario was not uncommon during the first two seasons that industrial hemp cultivation was even legal in Colorado. That uncertainty may well have kept farmers from betting big on hemp — a crop with uses in health, nutrition, textiles, energy and construction — or betting on it at all. Now, hemp farmers will have more security, thanks to the first seed certification out of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, a program rolled out earlier this fall.

On Tuesday, the department announced that three varieties of industrial hemp seed passed THC trials and were accepted by the Colorado Seed Growers Association's Variety Review Board, making them officially eligible for production. Those come from Kentucky-based Schiavi Seeds LLC. A Fort Collins company, New West Genetics, submitted other varieties that are pending approval.

Certification means the seeds are guaranteed to yield a plant that won't exceed the THC limit — an attractive prospect for farmers, assuming the yet-undetermined price proves reasonable.

The Department of Agriculture worked with Colorado State University and the Seed Growers Association to grow and test seed varieties in every corner of the state, at varying temperatures, altitudes, soil types and duration. Unlike imported seeds from Europe or Canada (common sources, currently), these seeds are specifically tailored to thrive in Colorado's high desert and mountain climate.

"This is a big step forward for this emerging industry," Duane Sinning, CDA's Division of Plant Industry assistant director, wrote in a press release. "CDA Approved Certified Seed provides growers with the confidence they expect in seed quality."

So with that, grow, baby, grow!

School's in session

On Wednesday, the new Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University in Pueblo (ICR) announced the first research projects that will get underway in the coming year. They include a study on the effects of the plant's compound cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD, on adults with epilepsy; an analysis of hemp fibers in 3D printing; and an investigation of cannabis-induced metabolic changes on viral infections, among others spanning disparate disciplines. Ten professors from the university's psychology, education, engineering, business, biology and chemistry departments will head up the projects.

"The ICR exists to generate new knowledge of cannabis and its derivatives through education and research," according to a press release from CSU-Pueblo. "While there has been significant cannabis-related research over the past few decades in certain areas, many gaps in knowledge remain, resulting in unscientific and anecdotal assessments of its benefits and risks to society."

The ICR is funded with public dollars. In 2016, the County of Pueblo chipped in $270,000, while $740,000 came from the state of Colorado. The state is also spending $160,000 on a variety of related needs including: a cannabis research conference on the Pueblo campus in April; the development of a new Journal of Cannabis Research; and the salary of an interim managing director.

University leaders intend to present a 2018 budget plan to fund ongoing work at the ICR during the upcoming legislative session, which opens Jan. 11. According to the university's release, ICR faculty will aim to explore new areas of research through collaboration with other academic and public- and private-sector players from around the state, the nation and the world.

In the future, let's hope the ICR — which is located in a city where residents just voted resoundingly in favor of recreational marijuana — can bring this once-stigmatized plant into the light rather than letting it stay shrouded in ignorance.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the THC percentage threshold of industrial hemp plants.

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