Colorado Senate Urges USDA to Loosen Hemp Regulations

Hemp plants reach their early stages at New Ag Farms in Greeley.
Hemp plants reach their early stages at New Ag Farms in Greeley. Danielle Lirette
The Colorado Senate has quickly adopted a resolution in support of loosening federal regulations surrounding hemp farmers, with the House expected to follow suit within the next few days.

After speaking with hemp farmers and the industries they supply, the state legislature is working in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Agriculture to push the federal government toward less supervision over the state's hemp program, which has been running since 2014. In a resolution adopted by the Senate today, January 24, lawmakers pledged their support for regulatory revisions the CDA is expected to send the United States Department of Agriculture within the next week.

The resolution, adopted 31-0, was introduced by senators Stephen Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, and Vicki Marble, a Republican from Fort Collins, with state representatives Edie Hooton, a Boulder Democrat, and Lori Sane, a Republican from Firestone, to push it through the House on Monday, January 27.

"It provides written comment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture," Fenberg explained to his Senate colleagues. "There have been a lot of changes at the federal level in terms of the allowance and regulation of hemp production. Colorado is ahead of the game, so we've got some opinions on that."

The 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp at the federal level, calls for the USDA to regulate hemp farming by November 2020. The proposed rules and regulations, released in October last year, were met with criticism from the Colorado hemp community; farmers and industry members took issue with the Drug Enforcement Administration's involvement in THC potency testing, the required destruction of any hemp that tests over 0.3 percent THC, and unclear language about where hemp will be stored in between harvest and testing.

However, the Farm Bill also gives states the right to submit their own plans for hemp regulations. The Senate resolution officially supports the CDA's upcoming application for Colorado's hemp program, which calls for allowing hemp producers to remediate hemp that tests over the 0.3 percent THC limit, as well as permitting hemp testing labs with state certification to operate without DEA supervision.

"Colorado has been a national leader in developing public policies that support hemp production, protect farmers and consumers, and treat hemp as an important agricultural product and not a controlled substance," the resolution reads. "The State's written comments on the interim rule present thoughtful and compelling recommendations on how the USDA's rules could be improved to allow for greater flexibility and equity in state regulation of hemp production in a manner that protects farmers and consumers and promotes growth of the industry."

The legislature wants to send its support to the USDA next week "to get a little more 'oomph' from the comments coming from Colorado, and to make sure they get to the federal government in time," according to Fenberg.

Marble, who has introduced a number of bills to ease hemp and marijuana regulations in past legislative sessions, says farmers wrote much of what the USDA will read once the General Assembly's letter arrives.

Senator Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose and owner of four hemp farms throughout Colorado, told his peers that the state's hemp industry could halt in its tracks or worse if the USDA's regulations as written are adopted.

"As presented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture...members, there will not be a hemp industry in Colorado," he warned. "The rules and regulations are so onerous that we as farmers cannot comply, and the state cannot afford to comply."

The CDA is expected to send a plan for state hemp regulations by the end of January.
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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

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