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The school will partner with the department of ag and Colorado State University, which completed its registration earlier this year, to study things like drought resistance of the plant, which strains are best-suited to Colorado’s climate, and which strains contain higher concentrations of non-psychoactive cannabinoids.
“It’s good because Colorado could become the leaders of knowledge and research and applications for a whole class of compounds that have been off-limits to study in the U.S.,” said Bob Sievers, the director of the Environmental Program at CU who will also now act as the coordinator of faculty research on cannabis. “It will mean we can become pioneers in a new field of biotechnology.”
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Industrial hemp is a member of the cannabis family that has concentrations of THC – the psychoactive component of the plant found in marijuana – of less than three-tenths of a percent. It can be used for everything from textiles to building materials, with possible medical applications also coming into play as laws surrounding cannabis loosen.
Growth of industrial hemp is illegal at the federal level. However, an amendment to the 2013 U.S. farm bill passed last year allows colleges in states where industrial hemp growth has been legalized to grow and cultivate the plant for research. About 10 states so far have legalized the growth of industrial hemp.
Sievers said CU has also applied to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for registration to handle Schedule 1 substances like marijuana in case any of the strains of hemp created at the school inadvertently contain more than three-tenths of a percent of THC.
“We’re going to extraordinary measures to ensure we’re operating strictly within the law,” Sievers said.
The CU registration covers the entire system for the state school, not just the Boulder campus. Sievers said he expects that departments ranging from biology to chemistry to integrated physiology to psychology to business will all have interests in conducting research.
Research will be limited to graduate programs and people over the age of 21, Sievers said. Funding will come on an individual basis for projects. Sievers expects the sources will range from private companies to non-profit foundations interested in a variety of uses for the plant.
“I’m excited about it,” Sievers said. “It’s a special opportunity for universities in only 10 states.”