New Book: Colorado Author Documented His “Tragicomedy” in Hemp Farming, So You Don’t Have to

As a semi-truck driver for a decade, Finn Murphy has seen a lot. Looking for a new experience, the longtime small-businessman and author of The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road thought that he found a gold mine in legal hemp. However, all he got was a “tragicomedy” that was part of “another boom that went bust in Colorado,” he says. Well, that and another book.

Murphy’s latest offering, Rocky Mountain High: A Tale of Boom and Bust in the New Wild West, details his hopes, dreams and failures in Colorado’s hemp trade. According to the now-former farmer, his tale is not unusual: Thousands of farmers were sold on the idea of hemp saving local agriculture in the late 2010s, only to see the bottom drop out in 2019 and 2020.

We caught up with Murphy to learn more about his experiences and what he sees as the future of hemp.

Westword: Without giving too much away, it sounds like your foray into hemp didn’t go over well.

Finn Murphy: No. The book is a tragicomedy of my little walk-on role in the hemp boom of 2019 to 2021.

What attracted you to hemp in the first place?

I thought I was going to make a lot of money, like everyone else said they were going to do.

How much did you know about farming or hemp when you got started?

Not a thing. I could identify an apple tree in late fall, but the only agricultural background I had was watching episodes of Green Acres on TV as a kid. So I went into hemp with as much experience as about 95 percent of everyone else who got into hemp back then, but I did have a lot of business experience. I’ve done about a dozen different small-business startups. I’m not a tycoon or anything, but I’m a competent small-business operator. I’d just come off the road after driving a truck for ten years, and I thought this looked like a great opportunity. So I jumped in with both feet, and as you’ll see in the book, it didn’t end well.

How much of a role do you think that lack of experience played?

The lack of agricultural experience didn’t play any role. We grew a great crop on ten acres. We ended up with about 15,000 plants and around 45,000 pounds of plant material. I built hoop houses, filled them with machinery, and then we hung-dried the plants before we bucked and trimmed them into smokeable flower. All of that worked out perfectly. We had beautiful seed-free bud and ended up with about 5,000 pounds of smokeable flower and about 12,000 pounds of biomass trim. Then the price for trim went to basically zero, and the price for smokeable flower went pretty close to zero.

Do you think the Colorado Department of Agriculture knew what was coming when it promoted hemp farming so much during those years? Were farmers set up with the right vision?

No. I’m not activated about the CDA and their hemp initiative and that kind of stuff. The most diplomatic way to put it, which is also mostly accurate, is that the CDA and the state wanted to find a solution for the endemic problems small farmers face in Colorado. So they came up with hemp, and with all of the hype and outside capital, they jumped in with two feet, just like I and 2,500 other farmers in Colorado did. They should have done more due diligence, but they didn’t. I went to a few state meetings with the CDA, and they worked really hard getting farming registrations done so people could get out and plant, and they did a good job of that, but that was pretty much the sum total of their efforts. They didn’t do anything with respect to what the cost is from seed to harvest, or what the post-harvest processing costs would be.

Easier registration and a shorter road to launch used to be the selling points for farming hemp over growing licensed marijuana, but now it sounds like those selling points set the stage for an inevitable recession.

It definitely did, and nobody had a cost structure back then, either. NoCo Hemp Expo is going on in a couple of weeks, and there will be all of these symposiums and speakers — but not a single breakout session on the costs of growing hemp. No one wants to talk about that because it’s so expensive.

Weather issues make an appearance in your book, as well. How friendly is Colorado’s climate to growing hemp?

Colorado was almost first at it. They were growing it in Oregon slightly before, where it’s a much better climate for this stuff. There’s more experience and institutional knowledge up there, too, because they’re so close to Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, where cannabis has been grown outdoors for decades. Colorado was one of the first states to it and had cheerleaders in the CDA and the state, too, which made a big difference.

But as an environment, Colorado isn’t bad for outdoor hemp. It’s not ideal, but it’s not bad, either. Most people growing smokeable hemp flower are doing it inside, though, because you have environmental pollination of female plants, and growing inside leads to harvests every month instead of once a year.

Given your past experiences in trucking, retail clothing and other small businesses, how did working in hemp compare?

I really enjoyed it. I had a great time, especially in the beginning. We put up three giant hoop houses, bought all of this machinery and hired a bunch of trimmigrants and other people. I was used to that sort of thing, because I was a mover in the trucking business. So I was always looking for labor across the country to help me unload trucks. I’m aware of and very much get along with the lower echelons of the employment pool. The farm where we had our processing plant was kind of like a campground, because people were living and working there. The only thing that went wrong was that hemp prices disappeared, and you couldn’t really go online and find a clearinghouse to sell smokeable hemp flower.

After all of this, how much faith do you have in the potential of American hemp?

I recently heard that Colorado is growing more CBD by itself right now than the entire country’s needs. And then you have, like, sixteen or seventeen other states growing hemp, too. So oversupply of hemp and hemp biomass is not going to be over. I know people with warehouses bursting with hemp from 2020. And if you want to use hemp for building materials, there’s still nothing in the building code that really allows that. We just spent fifty years getting rid of our textile industry in the U.S., so the concept of hemp for fiber is way behind China, which is the largest hemp grower in the world.

I’m not a hemp apostle. I think it was a boom. Nobody’s mining silver anymore in Colorado. Hemp is just another boom that went bust in Colorado, and I do not see it coming back.

Rocky Mountain High: A Tale of Boom and Bust in the New Wild West will be released online and in bookstores on June 13. In the meantime, Murphy will be at the NoCo Hemp Expo in Colorado Springs from Wednesday, March 29, to Friday, March 31. Find out more at

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