Updated: November 24, 2012 at 12:00 am
Amendment 64’s legalization of marijuana drew the nation’s eyes to Colorado on Election Day. In the ensuing media frenzy, another portion of the ballot measure got lost — Colorado will likely legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Tons of industrial hemp is imported into Colorado and other states annually from Canada, China and other countries, and hemp products are manufactured and sold throughout the country. But it remains illegal to grow hemp in the United States under federal law.
Hemp proponents say cultivating the plant would create an industry and could be a boon to the economies of Colorado and the nation.
Hemp has long been a stigmatized plant since it’s linked to marijuana because of its ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC, the psychoactive substance in pot.
Industrial hemp contains three-tenths of 1 percent of THC, while marijuana typically contains 10 percent or higher.
Amendment 64 will separate hemp from the definition of “marijuana” in the Colorado state Constitution, and it will require the Legislature to set up regulations for hemp farmers and sellers by July 1, 2014.
The amendment also makes it legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow up to six marijuana plants, and allows for marijuana stores to begin setting up shop in January 2014.
“We’re looking at a huge market that our farmers could really capture,” said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, which headed the Amendment 64 campaign.
Hemp is used for clothing, paper, fuel, car parts, makeup, cooking oil, meat substitutes, and even ice cream. Diaper Change, a Colorado Springs business, sells hemp diaper inserts, which are said to be more absorbent and durable than cloth diapers. And hemp hot dogs are on the way, said Colorado School of Mines student Erik Hunter, who testified at the Legislature this year on behalf of a hemp-growing pilot program.
“It’s almost like taco meat,” said Hunter of hemp meat substitutes.
Amendment 64 didn’t specify that industrial hemp will be legal to grow, but Vicente said that is expected to happen once marijuana is legalized in January 2013 and retail stores licensed in January 2014.
According to the national advocacy group Vote Hemp, Amendment 64’s industrial hemp clause mirrors measures that have passed in 17 other states with pro-hemp legislation. Nine states aside from Colorado have also removed legal obstacles to growing and researching hemp.
Colorado’s multiyear hemp pilot program, established by HB12-1099, will test the plant’s supposed power to detoxify soil and water.
In 2010, the Legislature unanimously passed a resolution urging the federal government to relax laws against industrial hemp. The resolution, sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, said the plant “should not be confused” with marijuana, and listed more than a dozen reasons to support industrial hemp.
The resolution called industrial hemp a “high-value, low-input crop” that can grow without irrigation. The resolution echoed Vicente’s argument that industrial hemp could energize Colorado’s economy and create jobs, and said that at least 24 small businesses in Colorado deal in industrial hemp products.
At least two pieces of bipartisan federal legislation have been introduced in recent years to remove hemp from the definition of marijuana.
The first was by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and the second by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. Paul’s measure had 35 co-sponsors, including Colorado’s Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Wyden’s measure was co-sponsored by Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.
Both bills have stalled in committee.