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

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"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,

"...my 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.

Sincerely,

Lloyd Casey State Senator
Continue for more about Lloyd Casey's fight for hemp legalization.
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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