Colorado hemp company sues state officials, alleging bid rigging

Colorado hemp company sues state officials, alleging bid rigging

A Colorado hemp company is suing the state’s governor and other officials, alleging bid rigging and slander, reports Hemp Today.

BoCo Farms, a breeding farm for hemp seed and fiber, filed suit in February claiming Governor Jared Polis and other state officials awarded hemp contracts without a fair review of bids.

Specifically, the suit alleges that public and state officials conspired to ensure that Denver-based MPG Consulting (formerly known as the Marijuana Policy Group) would be awarded hemp-related contracts funded by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The projects were part of the Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan (CHAMP), an initiative to develop a blueprint for managing and advancing the state’s hemp industry.

The plaintiffs, BoCo Farms and its CEO and president, Grant Orvis, claim that MPG falsified its experience and expertise in hemp to secure the contracts.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to a request for a statement, nor did MPG.

Details of the Suit

According to the suit, MPG was paid approximately $130,000 to write the Colorado Hemp Plan Submission and CHAMP report, and another $20,000 to write the comments on the Interim Final Rule. The suit alleges that MPG put forward proposals that weren’t compliant with state and federal hemp laws, and that several stakeholders in the hemp industry expressed concern that MPG wasn’t qualified to represent the sector.

The suit further alleges that in spite of those concerns, the state awarded the company a $138,000 contract to develop a plan to pursue a hemp Center of Excellence designation by the USDA. The Center of Excellence 5-year strategic plan was later rejected, according to the suit, and the state dropped its plans to pursue the designation.

The lawsuit claims that, “BoCo and Orvis could have and would have performed any of these contracts to the highest respect of the industry resulting in a compliant [Colorado Hemp Plan Submission] and fundable 5-year strategic plan for the [Center of Excellence].” It also claims “$250,000 of Colorado’s monies would have been spent in a manner most effective for Colorado.”

The case also alleges libel, slander, and blacklisting by officials at the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Attorney General’s Office, and representatives of MPG. Orvis — a volunteer member of the Hemp Advisory Committee, CHAMP Executive Committee and CHAMP Cultivation workgroup — said that as tensions rose over the projects and bidding process, he was excluded from potential business opportunities and eventually from the committees themselves. Further, Orvis claims he was shut out by peers in the hemp industry after state officials told them he was blacklisted.

In addition to the governor, defendants include:

  • The owner and select employees of MPG;
  • A former Colorado Deputy Attorney General;
  • The Senior Assistant Attorney General representing CDA;
  • Staff at the Colorado Department of Agriculture;
  • The governor’s legal counsel;
  • The governor's advisor on cannabis;
  • Others in the Colorado hemp industry.

BoCo and Orvis are requesting a jury trial and, if they win the case, monetary compensation in “an amount to be proven at trial.” This could potentially include damages awarded at trial, restitution, and costs and attorneys’ fees.

Additional Backgroud

Some of the public history of this case goes back more than a year, as documented by the Denver news site Westword in Feb. 2021. At that time, the Colorado Department of Agriculture defended choosing MPG for the Center of Excellence citing quality of the proposal and saying it had not received protests to the bid award before the deadline.

"The Colorado Department of Agriculture has concluded that the selection of MPG Consulting was the most advantageous to Colorado based upon their proposal to develop a strategic plan for implementation of a Hemp Center of Excellence," the agency wrote. They also noted that funding for the project would expire at the end of that fiscal year, June 30, 2021.