Amendment 64 is known as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, but its provisions go beyond allowing adults to use cannabis recreationally. The initiative also directs the legislature to "enact legislation governing the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp" by July 2014 -- language that's gotten the attention of hemp industry leaders like Dr. David Bronner, who'll donate $50,000 to the Amendment 64 campaign at an event this morning.
Bronner, who'll present Amendment 64 proponents with a check at an 11 a.m. press conference at The Alliance Center (more info below), is the man behind Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a firm that uses hemp oil in its products. "It makes the lather smoother and gives it a less drying after-feel," he says. "We've done really well with hemp oil in our soap."
Problem is, American farmers are precluded by federal regulation from growing industrial hemp, even though this cannabis relative doesn't boast the psychoactive elements present in marijuana. Why? Bronner sees it as "basically a holdover of Reefer Madness policy. Basically, I think they realize that prohibition is a house of cards, and they feel that admitting there's any chink in the armor -- that industrial hemp has diverse and useful commercial applications in a wide variety of products, or that marijuana has medical benefits -- threatens the rhetoric that this plant is evil and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever."
For that reason, Bronner is forced to seek hemp elsewhere. "Currently, we import it from Hemp Oil Canada, a company in Manitoba, and contract with Canadian farmers," he says. "And we're paying a premium. They don't have to worry about competition in America, which is the largest market for hemp."
If American farmers were allowed to plant hemp, Bronner would save money: "Obviously, the freight would be less, for one thing," he notes -- and he believes more supply would drive the price down generally.
Just as important, though, are the benefits he sees for folks not in his employ. "This is an exploding industry around the world," he points out, "but American policy, even under Obama, continues this drug-war hysteria. It's a really ridiculous policy in a time of economic downturn."
Eric Steenstra, the president of the advocacy organization Vote Hemp, who'll also be present at today's news conference, agrees. "The economics of this make complete sense," he says. "We're shipping jobs out of the country or overseas. And the fact that American companies are having to go overseas to buy hemp, and work with European or Chinese farmers instead of American farmers, doesn't make any sense, especially in our current economic situation. Why continue to deny a benign, non-drug crop?"
State Representative Wes McKinley asked the same question. During the just-ended legislative session, as William Breathes has reported, McKinley sponsored a bill that would authorize a a soil remediation study using hemp as a filtering agent. The measure would require the chairs of the agriculture, livestock and natural resources committees of both the state house and senate to appoint a task force made up of a soil expert from a Colorado university or college, an expert in radioactive material detection and leeching, an expert in phytochemistry, a horticulturist and three Colorado residents "educated and interested in the specialized use of industrial hemp."
McKinley's bill passed, and yesterday, Governor John Hickenlooper signed it into law. But that doesn't mean Colorado farmers will be able to grow hemp anytime soon. As Breathes pointed out, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia and Vermont all have passed bills allowing for industrial hemp cultivation. However the cultivation would require a DEA license, and so far no states have received approval.
In California's case, Bronner allows, Governor Jerry Brown "vetoed the hemp bill. He said he thinks federal policy is ridiculous, but he doesn't want to put California farmers at risk. So he supported us but then vetoed us."
Amendment 64 wouldn't make the situation different in Colorado -- at least not without separate legislation Governor Hickenlooper was willing to sign. Still, Bronner sees its dictate as a step toward ultimately changing federal rules.
"Basically, we need major agricultural states to reach a critical mass," he says. "If they adopt an industrial hemp program, it will keep the pressure on Washington -- to get more and more traction, so we can get industrial hemp cultivated again."
Steenstra seconds that emotion. In his words, "We think it's important for Colorado farmers and American manufacturers to be able to once again get domestically produced hemp."
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Today's 11 a.m. press conference at The Alliance Center, 1536 Wynkoop Street, will feature Bronner, Steenstra and Adam Dunn, owner of HoodLamb, a Denver hemp product retail outlet.
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More from our Politics archive: "Marijuana: Colorado Democratic Party convention supports Amendment 64."