But proponents of the crop don't want to wait until 2014. In February, they asked the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force to recommend that the legislature act in 2013 instead. They have an ally in Democratic state senator Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. In a letter to task-force members, she wrote that hemp is "primarily an agricultural issue" and that she's working on a bill that would create a committee of stakeholders to advise the state Department of Agriculture on developing regulations and registering farmers to grow hemp.

The task force, which has its hands plenty full with weed, readily agreed.

Ron Carleton, the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture, says those regulations will make hemp unique among Colorado crops in that similar rules for corn or wheat don't exist. "While hemp is certainly different from marijuana, in the federal eyes, it isn't," says Carleton, who serves on the task force. "Given the nature of what we're dealing with here, we do have to establish some rules and procedures and monitor things closely."

    Schwartz plans to introduce her bill in the next few weeks. It would also expand the phytoremediation study to allow farmers to plant up to ten acres of hemp right away in order to research how well it grows outdoors in Colorado and other factors. The farmers who participate could also generate seed stock and test the feasibility of getting crop insurance from private insurance companies since federal crop insurance is unlikely.

"I represent seven counties in western and southern Colorado with a lot of agriculture," Schwartz says of her reasoning for sponsoring the bill. "Is there an opportunity here? I think it's worth exploring. We have a situation whereby Colorado could be uniquely positioned to be competitive in this area should this prove to be marketable, profitable."

On March 20, local hemp advocates will visit the Capitol to speak to lawmakers about the crop. The following day, hemp bigwigs from the United States and Canada plan to gather in Loveland for a symposium hosted by the Hemp Industries Association. Topics on the agenda include how hemp is grown and processed, the state of the market for hemp, and what farmers who are interested in growing the crop can realistically expect. Steenstra, who is also the executive director of the association, says no one should expect hemp to become a billion-dollar industry anytime soon.

"I think there's the potential to grow it, make some money, do some economic development and create jobs if hemp is grown, but I don't think it's at that level," says Steenstra, who is slated to speak at the symposium. "I don't think one state is going to be able to turn it into a billion-dollar industry." Especially given the many challenges that still lie ahead.

************

One of the biggest roadblocks is the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. At the federal level, a permit from the DEA is still required to grow hemp, but the agency has rejected every applicant in recent memory with one exception: In 1999 it allowed researchers in Hawaii to plant a quarter-acre plot, provided they surrounded it with a ten-foot razor-wire fence and monitored it with a security system. That permit has since expired, and efforts to renew it were bogged down by administrative delays — or what the main researcher called "the DEA's shenanigans."

Most states that have legalized hemp require farmers to first seek a DEA permit to grow it. North Dakota repealed that requirement in 2007, after two farmers who applied for permits as test cases weren't granted them. Those farmers then sued the DEA, but the court punted, ruling that the question of whether farmers should be allowed to grow hemp belonged in Congress.

Amendment 64 also doesn't require Colorado farmers to seek federal approval before growing hemp. But that doesn't mean the feds couldn't crack down if they wanted to.

In the past, those who've tried growing the crop without federal permission have had little success. In 2000, for instance, the DEA descended upon an acre-and-a-half hemp field planted on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota by a man named Alex White Plume. The tribal government had allowed White Plume to grow hemp, which it hoped would grow into an industry for the impoverished reservation. The DEA chopped down the plants and burned them.

Instead of pushing their luck, most states that have legalized hemp are working to convince the feds to change their rules. In 2005, Texas congressman Ron Paul introduced the first bill to remove hemp from the federal definition of "marijuana" in the Controlled Substances Act. It failed, but similar bills have been put forward every two years. This year's versions have bipartisan support, including a nod from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

As for pot, Colorado Representative Jared Polis is sponsoring a bill to decriminalize marijuana, while Representative Diana DeGette has introduced the Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act, intended to ensure that federal marijuana laws don't preempt Amendment 64 and Washington state's similar measure, which would have positive outcomes for hemp, too.

Special Agent Paul Roach, the spokesman for the Denver Field Division of the DEA, says Amendment 64 doesn't change the way the feds view hemp in Colorado. "Any cannabis plant falls under the Controlled Substances Act, and that's what we enforce," he says. But Roach notes that in his 23 years with the DEA, he's never been involved in a hemp investigation. "We have limited resources, financially and with manpower, and we have to pick and choose what we consider to be the most significant drug-trafficking problems in the area," he explains, "and...I've never heard [anyone] talking about hemp being a significant problem."

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14 comments
wethepeople65
wethepeople65

The original US flag :hemp fabric.The Constitution :printed on hemp paper, textiles needed to help win WW2;also hemp.

rsteeb
rsteeb

Washington specified "INDIAN hemp"-- do you know what that is?  Look up W.B. O'Shaughnessy and learn.  Low-THC, my eye!

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator topcommentereditor

I'd love to publish some of these comments in our print Letters to the Editor section -- ideally with the author's full name. if that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

rebeldor
rebeldor

Yet another reason I am proud of my write-in vote for Ron Paul, with Gary Johnson as his VP.  Sure better than the two drug warriors for whom the 50% of the country who even bothered voted.

brianstripling
brianstripling

I once wrote a paper in college about hemp and I gave a speech about it too. This was back in the early 1990's and i got bad grades for content even when the assignment was to write about anything. I put a lot of work into the paper but now after 20 years I feel vindicated but I never graduated from college because they really were not looking for people who thought or wanted to think outside of the box.  I would love to get into the hemp industry . I live in an agricultural community in Texas and I think its ridiculous that we dont grow hemp. Especially when people are on government assistance and out of work.  What a waist in so many ways. 

hemp1
hemp1

Colorado has a chance to be a national leader in the new movement.  Hemp could do great things for our state.  www.coloradohempcompany.com

Dave Adams
Dave Adams

Probably not most American's are ignorant fools when it comes to hemp.

Hempstress
Hempstress

Dannnng Westword got me doing the quadruple posts...ooops

Hempstress
Hempstress

If anyone is interested in moving this historic hemp legislation through in Colorado, please donate to Hemp Cleans at www.hempcleans.com We will be hosting Colorado's first HEMP LOBBY DAY at the Capitol on MARCH 20th. We will have amazing hemp businesses like Evo Hemp, Envirotextiles, Dixie Elixers, THC Magazine, HIA/Vote Hemp, Hemp Hoodlamb, JR carpentry and Johnny Hempseed, of course DR. BRONNERS and many, many more supporting the bill and educating the public on how hemp is wonderful and growing industry that needs to be allowed to fully flourish and operate in a free market. At the end of the day this is about our economic FREEDOM.

In the meantime, you can also check out HIA's website where they have a petition to lobby our Congressman and Senators on a national level to pass HB 255 the Industrial Hemp Farming Act.

IndustrialHemp
IndustrialHemp

...Industrial hemp right now is a political football with the Democrats of Kentucky holding back on endorsing the plant for agriculture. Seems the Dems aren't getting their slice of the pie.

Kudos to Senators Rand paul and Mitch McConnell for their foresight in ending the over 80 years of lies regarding hemp and shame on the Democrats of Kentucky who could care less about the farmers in their State. They will be remembered come election time...

HB420
HB420

Cannabis and hemp are the exact same plant botanically speaking.  The only difference is one variety has been bred to produce high levels of THC and other cannabinoids and one was bred to produce copious amounts of fiber.  Marijuana is a slang word that needs to be dropped from the lexicon along with "pot" and "stoner"

kevin_hunt
kevin_hunt topcommenter

@rsteeb Many historical references allude to the medicinal properties of 'Indian Hemp'.

 
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