Posted on Wednesday, 23 March 2016
ARVADA —A new business is set to take root in Arvada that plans to transform a dilapidated former garden center into a facility to cultivate hemp.
Steve Cohen, owner of the hemp growing and cannabidiol (or CBD) extraction business Ambary Gardens in Kittredge, has been approved to open a hemp-growing operation at 10795 W. 72nd Ave.
The move may come as a surprise to some, as the Arvada City Council has voted against medical and retail marijuana operations in the city.
City officials say state statute does not contain authority for municipalities to ban hemp, and as long as a hemp operation fits within zoning and other guidelines, cities cannot outright ban it.
"Our land development code regulates and allows a primary use of agricultural crops in this zone, and the accessory uses allowing the conversion to oil is also allowed where the ag crop is grown," said community development director Rita McConnell.
Cohen began meeting with city officials over eight months ago to answer questions and explain his new business that will harvest hemp oil for its cannabidiol properties, perhaps best known for treating people with seizure disorders.
It is also widely used in products ranging from tinctures, salves, massage ointments and gels.
The current facility in Kittredge is roughly 10,000 square feet, and the Arvada location will be 62,000 square feet. Current plans call for using it strictly as a growhouse, although extraction and other processes might be added in the future.
Ambary Farms received top honors in a recent competition for having highest purity levels of CBD extract, with independent testing finding no traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC), the psychoactive constituent of cannabis. Ambary was one of the first to do so in the industry, said hemp farmer and Grow Hemp Colorado organizer Veronica Carpio.
"They're definitely one of the brave ones who entered that challenge," Carpio said. "The FDA has come out with some strict guidelines, and the awesome part they did was prove no THC in the product, which exempts it from the Controlled Substance Act."
Deputy City Attorney Mike Polk said the city did due diligence by surveying other cities to see how their hemp industries have done.
"We're treating this simply as an ag crop," Polk said. "Our survey of hemp operations in Jeffco indicated no problems with approved uses."
Cohen operated a greenhouse and garden center for 25 years at his Kittredge location. After the business shuttered for four years, he began thinking about growing hemp for the CBD oil as a way to improve people's quality of life and started Ambary Gardens just over a year ago.
"I felt it was time to move on to a new journey in life," Cohen said. "I knew I'd be the first to approach the city in doing this, so I went to them and asked if they'd consider allowing us to grow industrial hemp. Some were familiar with the difference between hemp and marijuana, so it was a process of education."
Cohen said he has invited law enforcement, the fire department and city officials to tour the facility once it's operational.
It's a move Duane Sinning said is an important part of alleviating concerns and educating the community about what hemp is used for, and how it differs from marijuana.
Sinning handles the state's hemp program as assistant director of the division of plants for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
"We get calls all the time from people who are concerned," Sinning said. "We tell our applicants the best way is to be proactive, contact fire and law enforcement, and it generally works pretty well."
He said two years ago, the department expected six to eight applications for hemp operations. The number now stands at 120, with 3,800 acres planted last year in Colorado fields and another 575,000 square feet grown indoors.
Daniel Ryley, deputy director of the Arvada Economic Development Association, said Ambary plans to hire about 30 workers. He noted recent legislation has opened the doors to new industries centered around hemp .
He said: "From AEDA's perspective, there would be a tremendous economic value in welcoming more of these types of hemp-related operations in the city."