Last month, Colorado's legislature passed a hemp-farming registry bill that Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law. But can hemp escape the role of marijuana's sober sister on a national scale? A new development gives it the best chance of doing so in ages. Colorado Representative Jared Polis was among legislators pushing a hemp amendment to the giant farm bill -- and after he took to the House floor citing George Washington's advocacy and the possibility that Betsy Ross's original flag was made of the fiber, the item passed. The video and details below.
Here's the video of Polis and colleagues speaking on behalf of the hemp amendment to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, better known as the FARRM Bill. The legislation would prevent the federal government from interfering with colleges and universities that choose to research industrial hemp in states, like Colorado, where doing so is legal.
This kind of measure might have gotten nowhere just a few short years ago. But earlier today, it passed the House by a 225-200 vote, raising hopes that lawmakers might opt to let states make their own decisions when it comes to marijuana, too.
Look below to see a release about the amendment from Polis's office, followed by a reaction from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a national organization that advocates for marijuana legalization.
Jared Polis office release:
Polis, Massie, Blumenauer Pass Amendment to Protect State Rights to Grow Hemp for Research
Bipartisan Coalition Works to Give Colleges and Universities Ability to Conduct Critical Research
WASHINGTON, DC -- Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced an amendment to H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, the FARRM Bill, that would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp in states where it is already legal without fear of federal interference. The amendment passed today by a vote of 225 to 200.
"Industrial hemp is an important agricultural commodity, not a drug," said Rep. Polis. "My bipartisan, common-sense amendment, which I've introduced with Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal. Many states, including Colorado, have demonstrated that they are fully capable of regulating industrial hemp. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. The first American flag was made of hemp. And today, U.S. retailers sell over $300 million worth of goods containing hemp -- but all of that hemp is imported, since farmers can't grow it here. The federal government should clarify that states should have the ability to regulate academic and agriculture research of industrial hemp without fear of federal interference. Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities -- the greatest in the world -- to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity."
"Industrial hemp is used for hundreds of products including paper, clothing, rope, and can be converted into renewable bio-fuels more efficiently than corn or switch grass," said Rep. Massie. "It's our goal that the research this amendment enables would further broadcast the economic benefits of the sustainable and job-creating crop. I look forward to working with Rep. Polis and Rep. Blumenauer on this issue."
"Because of outdated federal drug laws, our farmers can't grow industrial hemp and take advantage of a more than $300 million dollar market. We rely solely on imports to sustain consumer demand. It makes no sense," said Blumenauer. "Our fear of industrial hemp is misplaced -- it is not a drug. By allowing colleges and universities to cultivate hemp for research, Congress sends a signal that we are ready to examine hemp in a different and more appropriate context."
Nineteen states have passed pro-industrial hemp legislation. The following nine states have removed barriers to its production: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
"Vote Hemp applauds this new bi-partisan amendment and we are mobilizing all the support we can. This brilliant initiative would allow colleges and universities the opportunity to grow and cultivate hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes," said Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp. "It would only apply to states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal in order for those states to showcase just how much industrial hemp could benefit the environment and economy in those regions," continues Steenstra.
"Federal law has denied American farmers the opportunity to cultivate industrial hemp and reap the economic rewards from this versatile crop for far too long," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress should lift the prohibition on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp as soon as possible. Allowing academic research is an important first step towards returning industrial hemp cultivation to American farms."
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition release:
HOUSE ALLOWS STATES TO DETERMINE OWN HEMP POLICY; IS MARIJUANA NEXT?
States' Rights Win May be Harbinger of Future for States Legalizing Marijuana
WASHINGTON, DC -- Drug policy reform activists are hopeful the passage of an amendment of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (FARRM Bill) allowing educational institutions to grow hemp in states that have voted to allow research on the product will be a harbinger of things to come for states that have legalized marijuana. Despite repeated statements from the Obama administration that a clarification on federal policy toward Colorado and Washington, where voters approved initiatives to legalize and regulate marijuana last year, would be coming "soon," both states have thus far been left in the dark as to whether voters' will is to be respected on the federal level.
"In passing this amendment, Congress has taken a major step toward respecting states' rights and the fundamental right of voters to overturn wrongheaded policies out of step with the local populace," said retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of cops, judges and other law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs. "It was action at the state level that ended the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and if this vote is indicative of how the federal government will react to voter-approved initiatives in Colorado and Washington legalizing and regulating marijuana, it will be states that end the destructive, senseless, wasteful prohibition of marijuana."
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition represents more than 5,000 police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials and other law enforcement officials and 80,000 other supporters who believe that the war on drugs has increased violence and decreased quality of life in communities across America.
More from our News archive: "Top ten hemp legends: Which myths are true -- and which went up in smoke?"
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.