Marijuana: Industrial hemp study bill approved, but hurdles remain

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With the passing of HB 1099 yesterday, which creates a soil remediation study using hemp as the filtering agent, Colorado could be the first state in the nation to grow industrial hemp since the late 1930s.

But passing the bill was just the first obstacle. Actually implementing the plan might be more tricky.

The bill becomes law on July 1 and would require the chairs of the agriculture, livestock and natural resources committees of both the state house and the senate to appoint a task force made up of a soil expert from a Colorado university or college, an expert in radioactive material detection and leeching, an expert in phytochemistry, a horticulturist and three Colorado residents "educated and interested in the specialized use of industrial hemp."

The committee would chose a site or sites totaling no more than 500 acres. Ideally the site would be heavily contaminated, similar to the former Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant, though no site has been selected currently (note: we earlier incorrectly reported that the site would be at Rocky Flats). No word on exactly where the seeds for the hemp plants would come from, either.

The pilot study would last ten years, and the bill requires a final report within six months of the end of the program on the amount of contamination removed by the plants, the amount of contamination found in the actual plants and what things need additional treatments to be cleaned. The report would also help establish a baseline standard for cannabis phytoremediation levels.

But there are several hurdles to overcome. Among them is language in the bill that requires the money for the pilot program be kept in a bank or credit union that has insurance through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Because all forms of cannabis are illegal at the federal level, that could be a problem.

*Update 5/11/2012: As noted in the comments below, the final language of the bill allots all money used for the soil remediation program to the state general fund and then issued through the Colorado Department of Public health and Environment instead of using FDIC-insured banks. From the bill:

"The committee shall transmit all private and public moneys received through gifts, grants, or donation to the state treasurer, who shall credit the same to the hemp remediation pilot program cash fund ... The Moneys in the fund are subject to annual appropriation by the general assembly to the department of public health and environment for appropriation to the committee for the direct and indirect costs associated with implementing this article."

Bill author Wes McKinley acknowledged the banking issues in an interview with Westword back in February. But he said that it was still worth moving the bill forward."Hemp was the basic agricultural crop of our country at one time," McKinley said at the time. "It provides food, fuel, fiber, oil. All of our ropes and sails were made of it at one time. But because of special interests, it was outlawed."

But there are other obstacles, including getting federal approval. Colorado isn't the first to pass hemp cultivation bills. California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia and Vermont all have passed bills allowing for industrial hemp cultivation. However the cultivation would require a DEA license, and so far there are no states that have received approval.

More from our marijuana archive: "Marijuana: House Bill 1358 fails in Senate, THC DUI not dead yet?"; "Marijuana: 25 dispensaries' closure to protect "students," not just children"

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