comments_image Comments

Why Colorado Is Leading the Country as a Future Hemp Producer

A series of happy accidents are behind the upcoming commercial hemp industry in Colorado.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


The following is an installment of Doug Fine's weekly column, Drug Peace Bumblebee.

I met the gray-haired, dignified Parker (and these qualities are important, as we’ll see), at the Aug. 1, 2013 official hemp flag-hoisting above the Colorado statehouse in Denver. The matriarch of hemp in the Rocky Mountain State was beaming here in the city where she lives and has worked for decades as a Yellow Pages directory sales rep.

“Farmers are planting, I consider this achieving the goal,” she told me.

What I discovered from the love Parker was being shown by the comparatively latter-day hemp activists that day at the statehouse was that Colorado’s farmers and entrepreneurs are leading the U.S. into the billion-dollar world industrial cannabis industry because of this single human being. It all happened because when Parker retired in 2005, she took a year off to decide what she wanted to do with her life. She knew only that “environmental values” comprised her criteria.

“I remember where I was when it came to me clear as day,” Parker told me as state police hoisted the flag made from the same material Betsy Ross used for the first American flag. “It was hemp in neon letters. Hemp was the biggest difference I could make for the planet as an individual.”

The now 63-year-old grandmother had no previous lobbying experience of any kind. And yet if this industry takes off as predicted (Canada can’t plant new hemp acreage fast enough to keep up with demand), there will be buildings named after her one day. That’s because, unlike Kentucky and Ohio, Colorado doesn’t have a traditional hemp industry.

“This is about rescuing wheat and corn farmers who are losing their soil due to monoculture ad climate change,” she told me. “About a modern cash crop in an expanding area for our agriculture industry.”

Parker’s backstory—and Colorado’s hemp headstart over the rest of the U.S.—reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. If a series of crucial happy accidents hadn’t happened, hemp cultivation wouldn’t be taking off in the state full bore in 2014 (regardless of federal law). To name one, 10 years before her post-retirement hemp catharsis, in 1996, Parker took a political science course and just happened to be assigned to cover the nation’s first modern hemp legalization bill (sponsored by Colorado State Senator Lloyd Casey, it failed to make it out of committee).

“Had I not taken that course, I would not be talking to you today, and this hemp flag wouldn’t be flying above the capital,” she said. In other words, hemp would probably not be legal in Colorado. 

From the class she learned how the legislative branch of government works. She used that knowledge a decade later, in 2006, when she spearheaded her first hemp initiative.

“The first thing I did was call my friend (Colorado state rep.) Suzanne Williams (D-South Aurora). I gave Suzanne my poli-sci class final paper, and asked, Can we revisit this issue?” She said, I think we should. She became my champion, introduced me around, put me in touch with not just elected officials, but the amazing and effective sustainability activist Mike Bowman. We pounded the hallways seemingly in vain for years. It was a lonely time.”

Mark these works carefully, ye who hath given up on representative democracy: after those few years of blank stares and giggles, Parker changed the hemp laws in a big state, in a time of supposed corporate control of government, nearly alone. She had no political experience. Her secrets?

See more stories tagged with: