From Denver to D.C., Colorado Pols Push for Lighter Hemp Rules

Colorado Governor Jared Polis speaking at the 2019 NoCo Hemp Expo in Denver.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis speaking at the 2019 NoCo Hemp Expo in Denver. Jacqueline Collins
While most of Colorado's congressional delegation has split down party lines during the impeachment hearings, supporting hemp farmers seems to have united Colorado senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, as well as representatives Ken Buck and Jason Crow. The four elected officials, as well as Governor Jared Polis, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, and several other members of the delegation have released statements in support of loosening federal hemp regulations.

Why the sudden cooperation? On January 29, Colorado sent a proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture with this state's hemp-regulation wish list, and the politicians are putting out all sorts of good vibes in hopes of the USDA accepting those recommendations.

“We want to unleash this industry to grow and innovate. The proposed interim final rule, as currently written, does not support best practices in hemp production at a critical time in the development of this important industry," Polis says in a statement about the proposal. "The recommended changes we’ve put forward will support the hemp industry while establishing appropriate guidelines."

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp at the federal level, but also called for the USDA to regulate hemp farming on a national level by November 2020. When they were announced last October, the USDA's interim rules were quickly spurned by Colorado hemp farmers and other industry members, who criticized the Drug Enforcement Administration's involvement in THC potency testing, the required destruction of any hemp that tests over 0.3 percent THC (the federal limit for THC in hemp), and unclear language regarding where hemp will be stored between harvest and testing.

However, the Farm Bill also gave states the right to submit their own plans for hemp regulations. In Colorado's plan, submitted by Polis, Weiser and the state Department of Agriculture, Colorado asks the USDA to loosen the aforementioned testing restrictions so that they're similar to the CDA's rules, which have been in place since 2014.

Colorado currently has more 87,000 acres allotted for hemp farming, according to the CDA, more than any other state — but if farmers are forced to comply with the USDA's current rules, hemp industry representatives have predicted a bottleneck in hemp testing and an increase in hot hemp, or plants that test above the 0.3 percent THC limit.

“These regulations are not scalable or easily implemented in a state with a robust hemp industry as large as ours is in Colorado,” CDA commissioner Kate Greenberg explains. “Small farming operations will have the hardest time complying with these rules, and we are working to help ensure that all hemp producers in the state can be successful.”

Bennet, Gardner, Crow, Buck and fellow representatives Diana DeGette, Scott Tipton and Ed Perlmutter agree, all signing a letter to the USDA supporting Colorado's suggestions.

“Since 2014, Colorado has established itself as a leader in the hemp industry. As our state’s hemp businesses continue to grow, it is critical the USDA establish a regulatory structure that allows our farmers to succeed and doesn’t burden state regulators," Bennet explained in a statement.

State lawmakers have also called for changes to the USDA's rules. Earlier this week, the Colorado General Assembly adopted a resolution in support of Colorado hemp farmers, and sent a letter to the USDA voicing many of the same points cited by the Colorado delegation in Washington, D.C.

Upon receiving Colorado's hemp regulation application, the USDA has sixty days to approve or deny the plan; that puts the deadline at the end of March. In the meantime, the CDA says it will continue to operate under the state's current hemp rules through the 2020 growing season.
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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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