Hemp legislation father Lloyd Casey, 86, on fight for bill being signed today

When Governor John Hickenlooper signs a hemp-farming registry bill later this morning, no one will be happier than Lloyd Casey. The 86-year-old former state senator, who now lives in Ohio, first introduced a hemp-legalization bill in the mid-1990s, but was rebuffed not once but twice by powerful interests, including a DEA agent who still rankles him nearly twenty years later. "I said, 'Goddamn it, I'm going to live long enough to make this happen, and I'd love to rub your face in it,'" he recalls -- and he's scheduled to be on hand to witness today's signing. Here's his story.

"I was elected to the Senate in '92 and started in January of '93," he says. "And having been a World War II veteran of the Navy, I was aware that during the war, they'd had farmers planting hemp, because they were building ships like they were going out of style and they couldn't get enough of the fibers. And there were some students at the University of Colorado who were interested in the subject" -- including Laura Kriho, who now heads the Cannabis Therapy Institute and remains close with Casey to this day.

"I went up and met with them," Casey continues, "and they assured me that industrial hemp doesn't have any THC in it, so we're not talking about marijuana. They explained to me that it's too bad people think marijuana is a plant in and of itself. The plant is cannabis, which is where we get the word 'canvas,' like the canvas used on covered wagons that settled the West. And after listening to them, I said, 'Okay, I'll give hemp legalization a shot.'"

The then-novice legislator held off on championing hemp until he'd gotten his feet as a lawmaker, and when he did, "some of the other Democratic senators said, 'Oh my God, Casey, don't screw around with it. Nobody is going to take the time to figure out that what you're talking about is other than marijuana.' But when the session started in '95, I thought, 'The hell with them. I'm going to give this a shot.'"

He was inspired in part by a trip to Minneapolis, where he met with a group from the North American Industrial Hemp Association, including numerous academics and "guys in the paper business who were saying, 'It's totally ridiculous that we're not growing this in the United States. They're growing it every place else on the planet, especially in Canada.' And I thought it could really help American farmers."

To his chagrin, resistance to hemp legalization was immediate. "The DEA came after me, the state DAs came after me, the city police came after me, even the MADD mothers came after me," he recalls, with the last comment being a reference to negative testimony from a representative of the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "It was such a pain in the ass I thought I should have just lit up a joint" -- something he'd never done. In his words, "I figured that between alcohol and caffeine, I was drugged up enough."

The DEA's approach to the measure especially rankled Casey. Shortly before the agriculture committee was to debate the bill, the agency sent a fax to legislators threatening them with a violation of federal law if they passed the bill. Casey responded with the following letter to one DEA rep:

On page three of your February 16, 1995 faxed letter at 10:56 am your words are, in part,

" 31 years as a federal drug agent...this legislation is no more than a shallow ruse...the people of Colorado deserve to be protected from this sort of subterfuge."

You had been invited in December to participate in an open forum concerning the bill I had agreed to sponsor which would allow a crop of industrial hemp. I had spent five months of investigating the history of hemp as an industrial crop. My expectation was that the D.E.A. would accord me the courtesy of two or three hours to find out if the D.E.A. would or would not accept the honesty of my decision to sponsor the bill.

You chose to cancel the day prior to the scheduled meeting, time and place. You had a draft of the bill. Your words, quoted above, would have been graciously received in January. Your words, arriving by fax just 2 1/2 hours prior to the committee vote, are arrogant and insulting.

You have been on the taxpayer's payroll for so long, you have become like many bureaucrats who have forgotten the basic employer-employee relationship. You are the employee and the taxpayers are the employer.

To paraphrase your arrogance, mine is; I believe my 68 years, which includes WWII service on a destroyer in the South Pacific, a master's degree in Theology, seven children, twelve grandchildren and forty-six years of community service, make me an expert in recognizing a shallow person playing the role of a bureaucratic big shot.


Lloyd Casey State Senator
Continue for more about Lloyd Casey's fight for hemp legalization. Given the opposition of such powerful interests, it's no surprise that the bill failed to earn a blessing from the ag committee. But Casey managed to attract the attention of a powerful ally, Senator Dave Wattenberg.

"Dave was one of my best friends in the Senate, even though I was a Democrat and he was a Republican," Casey notes. "He was an authentic cowboy from Walden, and he remembered using hemp ropes as a kid -- and when you get that kind of rope around a steer's neck or a horse's neck, the horse drops right away, because the rope doesn't stretch.

"Those cowboys get graded by the tenth of a second, and with a hemp rope, it's boom, on the ground. So he said to me, 'If you bring this bill back in '96, I assure you, we'll get it done for you.'"

The effort wasn't a smooth one. In February 1996, Casey and his supporters gained possession of a hemp bale they planned to bring before a committee as a visual aid. But as the Denver Post reported at the time, a representative of the Denver Police Department seized it for testing, to make sure it didn't contain any THC. It didn't, and was eventually returned.

What happened next?

"Dave got it approved by the Senate agriculture committee," Casey says, "and it went into the full Senate, where there were sixteen Democrats and nineteen Republicans -- and he rounded up his good Republican friends and got it out of the Senate, too."

But that was as far as it got. Casey's account: "Unfortunately, when it got over to the House, the agriculture committee members, who were facing an election in November, thought, 'Oh my God, if I vote for this, some opponent is going to accuse me of pushing marijuana. So it died in the House -- and that was my last year. I served from '93 to '96."

Continue for more about Lloyd Casey's fight for hemp legalization. Without Casey's advocacy, hemp legalization didn't become make a big-time comeback until this past year, via the introduction of Amendment 64, which coupled language allowing adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana with text that opened the door to possible hemp farming.

A64's passage energized activist Lynda Parker, a major figure in our recent hemp cover story, "Green Acres." Parker knew the history of hemp in Colorado, and Casey's part in it.

"I had met Lynda five or six years ago," he points out. "She was part of this new crowd of people who wanted to get a bill through. And when Lynda called me and said, 'We've got the votes. It's going through -- and out of respect for what you tried to do seventeen or eighteen years ago, we're calling it the Casey Act,' I got tears in my eyes. I can be a sentimental old fart."

Parker and company wanted Casey to be on hand when Hickenlooper signed the bill, and his kids chipped in to buy him a plane ticket. He expects to watch the signing, then head over to Casselman's for what's being described as a 'Hemp for Victory Party,' at which he'll be the guest of honor.

He may be 86, but he remains plenty passionate about hemp, and a certain federal agency.

"They really ought to get rid of the DEA," he says. "It's a totally worthless department of our government. And you can quote me on that."

Will do. Here are the details about the Hemp for Victory party via a release from the Colorado Hemp Network:

Colorado Hemp for Victory Party on Tuesday (5/28)

• Featuring former state Senator Lloyd Casey, who introduced first industrial hemp bill in the nation in Colorado in 1995


{Denver} -- The Colorado Hemp Network is announcing the "Hemp for Victory" Party on Tuesday, May 28 in Denver. The Party will celebrate the signing of Senate Bill 13-241, sponsored by Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village), which creates the Colorado Industrial Hemp Program. The bill will allow Colorado farmers to grow up to 10 acres of industrial hemp (cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC).

Senator Lloyd Casey introduced the first industrial hemp bill in the nation in Colorado in 1995. Casey is now 86 years old and will be the guest of honor at the signing of SB 241 (now called the "Casey Bill" in his honor). Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is scheduled to sign the bill on Tues., May 28.

***HEMP FOR VICTORY PARTY*** Featuring former state Senator Lloyd Casey

Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 Time: 1:00-300pm

Where: Casselman's Bar and Venue 2620 Walnut St., Denver, Colorado

This Event is Free and Open to the Public.

SCHEDULE 1:00pm: Lunch with Casey Casselman's full lunch and drink menu will be available for purchase

2:00pm: Speeches • Sen. Lloyd Casey, retired, introduced first state industrial hemp bill in US in 1995 • Representatives for the office of Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass), the primary sponsor of the 2013 bill • Lynda Parker, Colorado Hemp Association ( • Many other representatives who participated in the 1995 and the 2013 industrial hemp bills


3:00pm: Showing of "Hemp for Victory", a 1942 USDA film that promoted hemp for the World War II effort

BACKGROUND In 1995 and 1996, agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration testified in person against Senator Casey's industrial hemp bills, intimidating the state legislature into killing the bills each year by telling them they would be in violation of federal law if they voted in favor of hemp. Click here to read Senator Casey's classic tell-off letter to the DEA:

Casey is excited to return to Colorado to celebrate the signing of the bill. In an e-mail to the Colorado Hemp Network before he left his home in Ohio for the Colorado visit, Casey wrote: "As I was getting ready for my trip, I asked myself, 'What the hell are you doing? You're damned near 87 years old.' Then I remind myself I promised the DEA I'd live to know our Colorado farmers were planting industrial hemp. I wouldn't want to break my promise."

Senator Casey, a World War II veteran, remembers that hemp was the fiber of choice for the miles of line needed by the Navy. In 1942, the US Department of Agriculture produced a film called "Hemp for Victory" that encouraged farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. This film will be shown at the Hemp for Victory Party.

"People always said Casey was ahead of his time," said Laura Kriho, who was an aide to Senator Casey in 1995 and 1996 and a member of the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project. "Now we know just how far ahead of his time he was -- 18 years to be exact."

Anyone who is excited about hemp in Colorado or who would like to meet Senator Casey is encouraged to attend.

SUPPORT HEMP ADVOCATES -- BUY CASEY'S BOOK: "Family First: A Father's Legacy"

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Hemp growing legal right now? No, says Colorado Department of Agriculture."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts