Protecting cannabis farmers

With so many factors putting outdoor cannabis grows at risk, Colorado builds a safety net with House Bill 1301

Medium shot of the man processing the marijuana field in the sunset background.

From wildly unpredictable weather patterns to unwanted cross-pollination, there’s a lot to worry about when you’re an outdoor cannabis farmer.

So Colorado built a safety net. 

Passed in June, House Bill 21-1301 helps outdoor cannabis cultivators prepare for damaging weather such as early snowstorms; build working groups to discuss how to reduce cross-pollination between different types of cannabis; and even plan for business in the event of federal legalization. 

Most Colorado municipalities, including those in Boulder County, prohibit outdoor grow operations. The largest percentage of the state’s outdoor cannabis cultivation is located in Pueblo, where in both 2019 and 2020, early snowstorms resulted in millions of dollars of losses for outdoor marijuana and hemp growers in Southern Colorado.

And because storage requirements for cannabis include safety measures like cameras, it can be tough for growers to quickly cut crops and move them to nearby facilities. 

HB 1301 gives cultivators the opportunity to create emergency crop loss plans, with approval by the Marijuana Enforcement Division, for such situations. 

“If you’re going to have an industry where the state is benefiting from a crop a farmer is growing, the farmer should be able to take steps to protect their crop from adverse weather,” Henry Baskerville, managing partner of Denver-based Fortis Law Partners, told MJ Biz Daily.

But outdoor cannabis farmers have also increasingly had to contend with crop loss from cross-pollination.

“At about six weeks into the growth cycle, cannabis and hemp plants show either male or female traits,” explains Emily Baron Cadloff for Modern Farmer. “Only the female plants are grown for buds or flowers. The male plants are culled or they’ll spread their pollen far and wide, which can result in cross-pollination of outdoor plants. For cannabis farmers, hemp pollen could lessen the potency of their crop or create new strains that growers don’t want. For hemp producers, this can raise the THC percentage of their plants beyond acceptable levels, ruining their crop.”

In states like Oregon and Washington, where hemp production is ramping up alongside marijuana cultivation, outdoor cannabis farmers have reported tens of thousands of dollars of loss from cross pollination. 

In 2019, Pete Gendron, a grower and president of the Oregon SunGrowers Guild, told The Colorado Sun he estimated that cross-pollination is impacting about 8% of that state’s marijuana production.

“It really only takes one (male plant) to ruin your day,” Gendron told The Sun.

Hemp and cannabis are major money-making crops for Colorado. According to data from the Department of Revenue, cannabis brought $2.2 billion into the state last year. And the Centennial State grows more hemp plants than any other state in the country, with nearly 45,000 acres. So it makes sense that municipalities like Pueblo would want to figure out how to grow these crops in relatively close quarters. 

While HB 1301 doesn’t provide hard and fast answers for how to prevent cross-pollination, it creates a working group of more than 15 members, including marijuana and hemp growers, to come together to hammer out possible solutions such as buffer zones, staggered growing cycles or female-only growth ordinances. 

And perhaps most importantly, considering the draft legislation to end federal prohibition (see Weed Between the Lines, page 38), HB 1301 gives provides for a working group that can discuss how cannabis and hemp cultivators in the state can plan for a future where cannabis is federally legalized. 

Colorado is not the first do think ahead this way: Oregon has already approved legislation that would allow cannabis companies to ship products over state lines in the event of federal legalization. 

Attorney Jordan Wellington with cannabis-focused law firm Vicente Sederberg in Denver told MJ Biz Daily that it was time for Colorado to do the same. 

“One day,” Wellington said, “Colorado will compete with other states in a national and potentially international cannabis market.”