GLENWOOD SPRINGS - The founder of a Glenwood Springs hemp textiles company, Enviro Textiles LLC, believes Colorado is poised to enter a new era of prosperity thanks to the recent passage of Amendment 64 to the state Constitution.
Barbara Filippone, 56, who founded Enviro Textiles six years ago, has been promoting the beneficial qualities of hemp nationally and internationally for 24 years.
She and her daughter, Summer Star Haeske, 30, run the company with a staff of about 10 people, providing hemp and other nontraditional fibers to manufacturers and working to change the perception of hemp in the U.S.
The business, located at 3214 S. Grand Ave., is largely a family affair.
"I've got my mother, my fiance, my uncle, my aunt all working for us," Haeske explained. She said nearly 4,000 people work for other companies at hemp manufacturing facilities in countries where hemp is legal, such as Mexico, Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom and China.
The Glenwood Springs facility, she said, is a warehouse stocked with more than 500 different samples of hemp fabrics, blends and other textile products. The Glenwood shop ships orders to small businesses and orders as large as four pallets of canvas to a Volkswagen factory, Haeske said.
The company arranges for shipments of larger orders direct from the manufacturing facility to the customer, she said.
The only Colorado manufacturing, she said, is the spinning of yarn in a Palisade facility, and special orders of T-shirts and other items of clothing for in-state customers.
Aside from serving as hemp fabric and garment wholesalers, Filippone and Haeske are dedicated promoters of hemp as a vital part of America's economic future.
"The possibilities of hemp grown in Colorado are endless," Haeske told the Post Independent in a recent interview at the Enviro Textiles shop.
"We have to really do it right, and bring real job creation with us," she said.
Haeske said there are 25,000 known applications for industrial hemp, and the list is growing.
State-level agriculture officials agree that hemp could be a valuable addition to the roster of cash crops in Colorado. But they are not so sure it will happen any time soon due to a continuing federal prohibition against growing the plant in the U.S.
"We are supportive of industrial hemp," said Chad Vorthmann, vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau. "And we will be very supportive of research into the viability and economic potential of hemp for the U.S."
But his organization and others are concerned that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will never permit a hemp crop to be grown and used in Colorado.
According to Vorthmann, the DEA already has said its agents, driving by a field, can't tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.
"The feds are not going to let farmers grow it," Filippone said, without a fight.
She noted that hemp was an important crop for use in making rope, clothing and other textiles, and a host of industrial applications. But in the 1930s, the federal government put marijuana on its list of banned drugs, along with opium, codeine, morphine and heroin.
Hemp is botanically related to marijuana, but it has scant amounts of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound that produces the psychotropic effects that make marijuana so popular.
Still, federal authorities lumped hemp in with the marijuana plant, and still do, Filippone said.
In Colorado, the passage of Amendment 64 has legalized the recreational use of marijuana by anyone over 21, and legalizes the raising and processing of hemp for commercial applications. State regulations for marijuana and hemp have yet to be developed.
But federal drug enforcement authorities reject any talk of hemp's usefulness because they worry that hemp is too close in appearance to marijuana, according to Vorthmann and others interviewed for this article.
The federal government, therefore, is firmly opposed to allowing hemp-based agriculture, claiming that it would allow farmers to hide marijuana plants in the middle of a hemp crop, Vorthmann said.
The federal stance contradicts general information about the hemp plant.
"Of the approximately 2,000 cannabis plant varieties known," according to the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, "about 90 percent contain only low-grade THC and are most useful for their fiber, seeds and medicinal or psychoactive oils. Hemp is one of the earliest domesticated plants known."
Filippone said she has worked in other countries to help launch a hemp industry. Canada, for example, has taken 13 years to work out its current set of laws enabling the hemp industry.
She also has worked in China, Romania, Poland and Hungary on similar projects, she said, pointing to photos on a wall showing her in various foreign locales.
The U.S. needs to follow a similar path with respect to hemp, she said, brimming with passion as she described hemp's hardiness and myriad of uses.
"This is a research and development center," Filippone said, pointing to a table overflowing with different kinds of natural fibers, hemp among them.
She emphasized that her work is not at all associated with efforts to legalize marijuana, the drug.
"I'm not a marijuana factory, and no, I don't have Chinese children working in the warehouse," she said, mentioning that her work in promoting the value of hemp has been misinterpreted.
"This is a representation of support for alternative agriculture," she said. Hemp is not intended to replace traditional textiles such as cotton, but to supplement the national and international market for all kinds of textiles.
Hemp is easier to grow than many conventional crops, uses less water, and is resistant to drought, frost, pests and pollution, Filippone maintained.
Hemp plants also provide protection from pests and drought if planted alongside other, less hardy plants, Filippone maintained. It has a 90-day growing cycle.
In a conference room at Enviro Textiles, Filippone pointed to a file box filled with papers that she said lay out a broad-based business plan for hemp agriculture in Western Colorado.
But agricultural experts say Colorado is not quite ready for a revived hemp industry, even it they feel it is a good concept.
"Anytime you have an alternative crop, it can be good for farmers," said Pat McCarty, Garfield County agent for Colorado State University Extension.
He cited the example of sunflowers, which some have tried to grow as an alternative to corn, wheat or alfalfa.
Sunflowers grew well on the Western Slope, he said, but there was nothing set up for processing, shipping or marketing the crop, so it failed as a source of income for area farmers.
"I guess the same would be true of the hemp crop," he said.
"I'm sure there's lots and lots of uses for hemp. But, again, it's a big, bulky product. When you start adding freight costs to the things we grow here, it becomes prohibitive," he added.
Filippone and Haeske believe hemp could become a cash crop for Garfield County.
McCarty said local farmers might like to learn more about the crop. "But we'd have to have a totally different marketing scenario than anything I've ever seen," he said.
Haeske, however, said the time is right for a pro-hemp effort.
"Right now, we need people contacting their senators and congressmen, saying they support this new initiative," she declared, so that Colorado can get out ahead of other states in gearing up a hemp industry.