Amendment X Passes, Reclassifying Industrial Hemp in Colorado

Colorado's hemp industry was divided on Amendment X.
Colorado's hemp industry was divided on Amendment X. Ben Droz
Amendment X, a ballot measure that takes industrial hemp out of the Colorado Constitution, passed by a narrow margin on Tuesday, November 6. The proposal needed 55 percent approval from voters to succeed, and it currently sits at slightly over 60 percent, with more than 90 percent of the state's votes counted.

Colorado was the only state in the country to have industrial hemp defined in its constitution, but a large portion of the hemp industry believed that definition was going to prove more of a hindrance than a help. The Colorado  Constitution currently defines hemp as a marijuana plant containing no more than 0.3 percent THC; anything over that threshold is considered marijuana by the State of Colorado.

The federal government's current definition of industrial hemp also carries the 0.3 percent limit, so states allowing hemp farming all use the same number. But as Congress continues to negotiate details of the upcoming Farm Bill, proponents are hopeful that the federal bill will include language that not only legalizes hemp nationwide, but also raises the THC maximum to 1 percent. If the feds do explicitly legalize industrial hemp at 1 percent THC, without Amendment X, proponents warned, Colorado would've been stuck by itself at 0.3 percent.

With the passage of Amendment X, defining industrial hemp will be up to the Colorado Legislature, which is likely to adopt the federal definition.

But as the election neared, opposition to the amendment sprang up, with a sizable portion of farmers, breeders and other industry members warning against leaving the definition of industrial hemp to either state legislators or the feds.

Marijuana and hemp lobbyist Cindy Sovine says that those fears were misguided; she believes a small but vocal faction of breeders worried about losing their investments were at the heart of the opposition. "There has been so much opposition that's been kicked up from people who've been developing certified hemp seeds. If that status quo were to change, those seeds would be that much less valuable," she explains. "But there wasn't really any campaigning. If Monsanto or some giant agriculture businesses were behind this, wouldn't you see more advertisements?"

Sovine, who represents several large clients in the hemp and hemp-research industries, is hopeful that the defeat of Texas congressman Pete Sessions will make it easier for the Farm Bill to advance in 2019, and perhaps even push through a chance in the THC threshold. As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions blocked the advance of over 36 marijuana-related federal amendments, including those that would've changed hemp policy.

"This will likely help push the Farm Bill into 2019," Sovine says. "Getting rid of [Sessions] just makes me so much happier that we were able to pass Amendment X."

The Colorado Legislature could create its own statutory definition of industrial hemp before the Farm Bill passes, one that could conceivably include any THC threshold — but Sovine doesn't see that happening. "It wouldn't make sense to antagonize the federal government like that," she says.

Amendment X was put on the ballot by Colorado lawmakers; only five voted against adding it. Because of the 2016 passage of Amendment 71 (the controversial "Raise the Bar"), any constitutional amendment in Colorado must receive at least 55 percent of the popular vote. Amendment X got off to a hot start last night, never dipping under the 60 percent approval rating. As of this morning, only thirteen of Colorado's 64 counties had a majority of "no" votes.

Still, not everyone in the hemp and marijuana industries were pleased. Rob Corry, co-author of Amendment 64 and a prominent marijuana attorney representing clients who work with hemp, penned an op-ed against Amendment X in October, taking issue with removing the plant's constitutional protection.

"It appears congratulations are in order to the state legislators who created Amendment X to hand over control of Colorado's cannabis industry to the Trump Administration," Corry says. "I hope that the Trump Justice Department will continue to adhere to the president's specific promise to Senator Cory Gardner of absolutely no federal interference or prosecution of Colorado's industry."

And if things don't work out for Colorado's hemp industry as Amendment X supporters envision? "If the Trump Justice Department violates the president's promise, then the politicians who sponsored X will be held personally accountable," Corry concludes.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell