Hemp industry bill advances, but hurdles cited

DENVER—A bill that would lead to the regulation of growing industrial hemp in Colorado had little difficulty getting through its first committee Wednesday.

Supporters of the measure, SB241, said Colorado is poised to lead the nation in the hemp industry, thanks to last fall’s passage of Amendment 64 that legalized recreational marijuana, but there still are some major roadblocks, such as buying the seed to grow the plant and getting insurance to protect it.

Neither is possible because cultivating hemp is against federal law.

The United States is the only industrial nation that bans the production of industrial hemp, but it does allow for finished products to be imported for resale, which range from clothing to cosmetics.

Ben Holmes, owner of the Lafayette-based Centennial Seeds, told the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee, which unanimously approved the bill, that because of federal laws banning hemp cultivation, it’s nearly impossible to find the seeds to grow the plant.

Robert Kane, chief executive officer of the Dallas-based X-Change Corp., sells cannabis- and hemp-based extracts and told the committee that those federal laws are a major roadblock to making any money in the hemp industry.

Both said federal laws banning hemp have allowed other countries, such as Germany, Canada and China, to lead the way in the industry, making millions in the process.

The bill, introduced in part by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, whose district includes Delta County, calls on the Colorado Department of Agriculture to license those who want to start hemp-growing operations.

But because of those federal laws, the bill only allows for the growing of hemp for “research and development” purposes and limits grow operations to 10 acres or less.

Several members of the committee said the hemp industry has the potential to be huge, but that won’t happen until the federal government stays out of the way of the industry taking root in the state.

Still, that shouldn’t stop Colorado from pushing the envelope on getting the industry started here, senators said.

“I think this is a very promising opportunity for Colorado, but I have serious concerns about what we will be able to do without the federal government loosening some of their constraints on this industry, which I don’t understand why they are there in the first place,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch. “We’re going to have to push the federal government to loosen up the restrictions that they have before we truly can take advantage of the opportunities that the hemp industry has.”

The bill heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for more debate.


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