Representative Wes McKinley wants to save the earth with hemp, and not in some philosophical, hippie-dippy way either. Through a bill he has introduced this session that would study how hemp plants clean contaminated soil, McKinley is hoping to eventually revive industrial hemp production in Colorado and the rest of the country.
House Bill 1099 wouldn't legalize hemp farming outright. If passed, it would authorize the chairs of the agriculture, livestock, and natural resources committee in both the House and the Senate to appoint a seven-member committee to study the process of phytoremediation, a fancy term for a simple process. You see, hemp plants suck up contaminants and radiation in the soil -- and it's been proven to work in places like in Russia, where they've been used to remove soil contaminants from the Chernobyl disaster site.
As detailed in the bill, the committee would consist of one soil expert from a Colorado university or college, one expert in radioactive material detection and leeching, one expert in phytochemistry, one horticulturist, and three Colorado residents "educated and interested in the specialized use of industrial hemp."
The committee would choose a small test site in Colorado and would have until July 1, 2022 to complete the project.
The idea to use industrial hemp as a soil-remediation tool was brought to McKinley's attention by marijuana activist Jason Lauve a few years ago. McKinley says Lauve has been instrumental in getting the bill off the ground. Cannabis soil remediation dovetailed perfectly with McKinley's work with cleaning up the former Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant.
Though the project is a heavily regulated pilot program with a set, ten-year life span, McKinley hopes it will open doors to future industrial hemp production. "Being from a farming area, we are looking for crops that can make a profit," he says. "We think hemp doesn't have to be subsidized like they do with corn and wheat."
McKinley, a rancher who represents a highly agricultural segment of the state and isn't often photographed without a bolo and a cowboy hat, has approached the issue from an farming standpoint and makes the clear distinction between industrial hemp cultivation and marijuana cultivation. As he points out, Americans buys millions of dollars worth of legal hemp products each year from other countries -- money that could be going to American companies.
"Hemp was the basic agricultural crop of our country at one time," McKinley points out. "It provides food, fuel, fiber, oil. All of our ropes and sails were made of it at one time. But because of special interests, it was outlawed."
The language states that no money from the general fund would be used. The committee is allowed to accept grants and donations, but the language specifies that the money be kept in a banking institution insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
This may prove to be one of the measure's biggest hurdles. Banking has been a growing problem in the medical marijuana industry, as dispensaries are having a hard time finding banks willing to do business with entities violating federal drug laws.
The bill has already passed the House Committee on Local Government and goes before the Appropriations Committee next, though committee staff says it will be a while before it goes up on their schedule.
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Here's the bill.
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