On Tuesday, August 6, the Las Animas County Board of Commissioners approved a special use permit following a public hearing for Colorado Botanical Distribution LLC. The company proposes to extract Cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp at 201 W. Indiana Ave. in Trinidad, the former location of Terra Firma Recycling and prior to that, Dochter Lumber and Sawmill.
This will be the first full-scale operation for the company said representative Adrian Tucker, who described his background as being in chemistry and engineering. Though they have tested their process at a pilot level.
“Our process only uses water. So, we will be completely solvent free and very environmentally friendly and we’re striving to be 100 percent waste free,” said Tucker. “Our waste plant material will be ground up and used as soil amendment this first year, but in future seasons we would like to use it in cattle and animal feed.
“It is in our best interests to reuse the water we are using so we are going to be discharging very little water. We will be reusing it, filtering it and reusing it in our process. We will have a very little carbon footprint. We will be using electricity, but it’s a very environmentally sound process. It will be good for the county. Money will stay in the county job wise and we will not only be able to process for our farm, but we will be able to process for others in the county and area.”
Tucker said the initial investment to make the plant operational would be about $500,000. He said initially, he expects to employ about 4-7 people at the plant, but in future seasons he said he expected those numbers to double.
“We will be open in the middle of September, because it is imperative to get this year’s (hemp) crop processed,” said Tucker. “Which is why the planning commission was nice enough to speed up the process and get us in front of you (the county commission), so we could get this special use permit and be able to process this year’s crop.”
The processing plant is partnered with several local hemp growers, including JJN LLC., who are currently growing 80 acres of hemp near Hoehne, specifically grown for CBD extraction.
The difference between hemp and cannabis is, at least in the eyes of the state, is that marijuana contains more than 0.3 percent of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Jay Gonzales representing JJN LLC (also owner of Las Animas Grill on Commercial Street in downtown Trinidad), explained what would need to happen if the processing plant came in contact with a plant that was higher than 0.3 percent THC.
“We have to destroy the plant,” said Gonzales. “If there is any cross contamination it would have to be destroyed. The THC content has to be low enough to consider it hemp and if that level gets above 0.3 percent, the plant has to be destroyed. So, it would never get to the processing plant. Anything like that, we wouldn’t be able to process, because it doesn’t fall under our protocols and standards. We wouldn’t want to cross contaminate, or for that to get into our machinery by bringing that onto our farm.
“That’s really what’s most important to us, that we are adhering to that standard throughout, so people buying our product know we have the highest standard of processing… We are going to do a great job ahead of time to make sure we are starting at zero, as well as making sure no bacteria gets into the product.”
In future seasons, the company hopes to use the hemp by-product following the CBD extraction process in animal feeds, similar to how alfalfa and other forage crops are pressed and, or pelletized for sale as feed.
Gonzales said they expect the by-product to contain more than enough protein to be considered a viable cattle feed.
As for the CBD being extracted, Tucker said the industry is wide open and on the cusp of a boom.
When asked who their possible clients might be Tucker said, “Everyone from the cosmetic industry to dog treats to drink manufacturers. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it is showing up in everything. The market is expanding very rapidly — and I think as we see more and more customers — and what we’ve found also, is that customers don’t know what to ask for, because it is such a new industry. Having those standards and showing consistency time after time is going to put us in a category better than most.”
The group said they are hoping, at harvest, to harvest about 2,000 plants per acre and average one total pound of biomass per plant. Currently, said the group, if just the CBD biomass was sold wholesale, the price can range from $30-$50 a pound. Prices skyrocket from there, as the product is more refined. Seeds for CBD rich hemp plants run from hundreds of dollars a pound to several thousands of dollars.
Gonzales said his group has worked closely with others in the area currently growing hemp.
Said Gonzales, “All farmers in Las Animas county that are growing hemp this year, we identified who they were very early in the season and we’ve been in close contact all this growing season about how to combat weeds, things that are working over here and amendments that are working over there and weeds that are taking over in some areas and things that work. We’ve been in close contact with all of them. We’re a pretty tight knit group and have worked hand in hand with each other and we are hoping some of those farmers will be processing with us as well.”
Gonzales said the plant could process hemp from neighboring counties as well. “We recognize the amount of material that is here in Las Animas County. For what we process for the year, we would be able to get through it relatively quickly and would love to rely on some of the neighboring counties, because there are some significant fields out there.”
Gonzales made the lofty comparison of comparing what this plant could do for the county and CBD production with what Coors has done in Golden with beer production.
“We want it to be that showcase product for Las Animas County,” Gonzales said. “And show that we are really proud of the product coming out of here and the standard we put forward to ensure we are the best quality among anyone in the state, not just down here. We want to be synonymous with high quality, high testing, to put ourselves forward in this emerging market.
“As years progress and people see it is a good product, we have a lot of farmers down here and it will be a very good crop that is relatively high value and if there is a processing plant close by it is very good for the county.”
The three Las Animas County Commissioners unanimously approved the special use permit for the facility.