John Lyons lives in Parachute, CO and grows hemp in what used to be his horse arena. Inside, hundreds of green plants stand in long, neat rows, under LED lights.
Lyons says he never thought he’d enjoy the pungent, earthy smell of hemp plants, but it’s grown on him.
“I really do like it, it’s a great smell,” he said.
The stalks of hemp plants can be used for paper and fabric; little branches of mature plants can sold as starters to other growers. Hemp looks and smells like marijuana, which has led to some awkward situations for Lyons.
“We had a lady come here one day, just madder than a hornet at me, thinking I’d gotten into marijuana, and I’m going down the tubes, and all this stuff,” he said.
The two cannabinoids are different, in fact, largely because of two chemicals: THC and CBD.
“The THC is what affects your mind,” Lyons explained. “The CBD does not affect your mind at all.”
Hemp farmers want to produce CBD, a popular remedy for things like insomnia and anxiety. Lyons’ wife, Jody, uses CBD in creams and salves she makes. She has customers all around the country. The CBD market, some projects say, will grow by 700 percent by 2020.
The more CBD a plant has, however, the more THC it has, too. In Colorado, hemp plants are legal only if they contain less than one third of a percent THC.
When voters passed Amendment X in November, they freed the state from having to maintain this definition. Colorado will define hemp however the federal government does.
Amendment X was passed in anticipation of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalizes industrial hemp nationwide. The bill, which has passed both houses of Congress and is headed to President Trump’s desk for signing, says hemp is no longer a drug. According to Duane Sinning, of Colorado’s Department of Agriculture, this is big news.
“[Hemp farming] becomes a true industry, and it becomes a true agricultural crop,” Sinning said.
If hemp is no different than corn in the eyes of the law, hemp farmers are now eligible for crop insurance and loans. All this will make hemp farming much less risky, Sinning says. Right now, a farmer could lose a whole crop to a hailstorm and just have to accept the loss.
“Any cost he has, all costs, he bears on his own,” he said.
John Lyons says he’s not sure people appreciate just how risky his new business is. The fact that he is already growing hemp gives him a competitive edge. The Farm Bill, arguably, will blow the hemp and CBD markets wide open and communities in Colorado stand to benefit.
“The more it becomes legal nationwide, Colorado has a head start,” said Stuart McArthur, Parachute’s town manager.
Increased cultivation and more processing can drive economic development in a place that, for the longest time, has been dependent on the oil and gas industry.
McArthur says Parachute has high hopes for entrepreneurs like Lyons. Thanks to Amendment X and the Farm Bill, lots of possibilities exist, in an industry poised to make a significant leap.