I spent my Memorial Day weekend in one of my happy places: with my hands in the dirt at the Snowmass Community Garden.
Returning to the same box is a three-year running tradition I eagerly await each spring as the season transitions to summer. Planting pot is prohibited, but I’m growing my own tomatoes, strawberries, spinach, kale, onions, Swiss chard, yellow crookneck squash and herbs. In between trips downvalley to stock up on supplies from Mountain Greenery and Eagle Crest Nursery, I recalled the recent Pitkin County decision to regulate hemp cultivation when passing by the historic schoolhouse in Emma — where the perceived problematic plot is located nearby.
In March, The Aspen Times reported that county commissioners voted 4-1 to require a site-specific, annual review for hemp operations; they can also determine at an initial review to grant a multi-year permit and not require an annual review. Already in effect, the rule was prompted by intense lobbying from some residents of Emma, who objected to the odor coming from a field, formally known as Sirh Farms, which was planted in 2020.
But this year, co-owner Raphael Fasi pledged he would not replant again on his in-laws’ property, instead redirecting resources back to Silt where his company has grown hemp successfully for the past five years. This offer came before the new government regulation was enforced.
The most vocal opposition was Cathy Markle, an immediate neighbor to the field, who complained during a public hearing (not via communication to Fasi directly) that the odor was not only too strong to spend time outdoors, but also a risk to her health.
“I am a little disappointed that nobody has contacted me, including Cathy. Absolutely nobody,” he told the Times. “So instead of going through all this work that everybody’s gone through, we can put that (to an end) real quickly. I will not farm there. I did not mean to create any issues. I want the community of hemp farming to flourish and grow.”
So now, rather than contributing to the agricultural focus Pitkin County claims is of the utmost importance in Emma, a viable new business — especially during a time when new jobs are desperately needed — was forced out.
Sorry, Karen — oops, I mean Cathy — but there is zero scientific evidence that the smell of hemp causes negative consequences to one’s health. Maybe try ingesting it and you’ll experience some positive side effects first-hand. Beyond hemp’s most common application as a wellness supplement and superfood, additional pragmatic uses of the plant can be used in home construction, textiles, clean beauty products, nontoxic cleaning agents, biofuel and many more.
Does hemp cultivation cause an odor? Yes. But why is that odor discriminated against while other agricultural endeavors are permitted to operate without the same consequence?
Francie Jacober, the only opposing vote to the new rule, said it best in another Aspen Times account: “If you’ve ever lived next to a cow and calf operation, that’s 12 months of odor. Hemp is three months of odor. I guess it’s a matter of personal preference whether people prefer the odor of manure rather than what they think smells like marijuana.”
It’s worth noting though that hemp has grown without conflict for about five years in another part of Emma at Happy Day Ranch, but it’s more isolated than Fasi’s farm. Only after facing NIMBY pressure from a single resident, county commissioners were swayed from sticking to its own principle of expanding the local agriculture landscape?
Just last week, county commissioners approved an out-of-state-owned second area distillery (vodka! gin! whiskey!) — similarly surrounded by residential land. It’s another clear example of the unjustified preferential treatment alcohol is still given over cannabis — despite its scientifically proven health risks and as progress continues through national policy reform for both hemp and marijuana.
In 2018, an amendment to the Farm Bill legalizing hemp in the U.S. was signed into law, removing the hemp plant, along with any of its seeds and derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act. It was a monumental advancement for the global hemp market, which reached a value of approximately $5 billion in 2020 and is expected to hit $24 billion by 2026.
Finally recognized again as the valuable crop, hemp’s origin story goes back to 8000 B.C. in Asia and it is largely credited as one of civilization’s first agricultural crops. In North America, it was first introduced in 1606 and grown until the 1937 when the federal government tightened its control on all cannabis through the Marihuana Tax Act. In the 1700s, farmers were legally required to grow hemp as a staple crop and even George Washington cultivated it on his Mount Vernon estate, where it was recently reintroduced on the grounds of the modern day museum and education center.
The economic and health benefits of the cannabis plant are unarguable and the legal industry is unstoppable at this point. Federal legalization is imminent, our own governor champions cannabis and the most conservative of politicians have changed their view on industrial hemp — soon enough the people and politicians of Pitkin County will have to just let it go and let it grow.
Katie Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.