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Colorado Ballot Measure Would Change Industrial Hemp Definition

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It could be a matter of only days before the federal government legalizes industrial hemp, freeing up farmers to finally enter a federally sanctioned, multibillion dollar market.

But over in Colorado, there’s some concern about the potential impact of that congressional legislation on the state’s existing hemp industry.

Why? Because the way industrial hemp is currently defined under Colorado’s constitution could become inconsistent with the amended federal definition following the passage of the federal 2018 Farm Bill. And that inconsistency could theoretically put Colorado hemp farmers at a disadvantage.

A little-talked-about Colorado ballot measure, which will appear before voters in November, would resolve that issue by changing the definition of industrial hemp in the state constitution. Essentially, it’d make it so the state’s definition matches the federal definition.

Currently, Colorado defines hemp as “the plant of the genus cannabis and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration that does not exceed three-tenths percent on a dry weight basis.” That was enacted as part of Amendment 64, the same 2012 voter initiative that made the state the first in the nation to legalize marijuana.

If voters approve the new referendum, which was placed on this year’s ballot by lawmakers, the definition will be amended such that hemp “has the same meaning as it is defined in federal law or as the term is defined in Colorado statute.”

Colorado Sen. Steve Fenberg (D), one of the resolution’s main sponsors, said the amendment would give the state necessary flexibility to stay competitive should federal hemp laws change. For example, he tweeted in April that the federal government could increase the percentage of THC in their revised hemp definition.

“If they do that, our farmers would be at a disadvantage,” Fenberg wrote.

That specific concern hasn’t come to fruition yet, as the Senate-passed Farm Bill maintains that, by definition, industrial hemp has no more than 0.3 percent THC—the same level under current Colorado law. But the new ballot measure, if approved, would prevent future inconsistencies that could jeopardize the state’s hemp industry.

Protecting and empowering hemp growers in the state has become a priority for federal lawmakers, who’ve increasingly recognized the economic potential of industrial hemp.

And in Colorado, politicians on both sides of the aisle are vying for the hemp vote.

Just last week, both major party Colorado gubernatorial candidates—Rep. Jared Polis (D) and state treasurer Walker Stapleton (R)—paid visits to hemp farms in Rifle, Colorado.

Smiling for photos surrounded by stalks of hemp has become the new kissing babies in Colorado politics.

But hemp is also gaining bipartisan popularity at the federal level, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made hemp legalization a key agricultural platform, teaming up with rival Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the issue.

And as McConnell and Schumer get closer to realizing that ambition in Congress, Colorado is paying close attention and taking steps to prepare itself for the hemp windfall.

Top Lawmakers Talk Hemp Legalization At First Bicameral Congressional Conference Committee Meeting

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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