Legislation (SB 67) that would have allowed Colorado to become the first state to legally grow industrial hemp since World War II was killed by the House Agriculture Committee by a stunning 8-5 vote. The vote came as a surprise to many who had watched support for domestic hemp legislation grow in recent weeks, including gaining approval from the full Senate.
Many witnesses attribute the outcome to a collective show of force from law and drug enforcement officials. During the four hour hearing, twelve law enforcement officials testified against the bill, including regional DEA representative Greg Williams and Colorado Bureau of Investigation Director Carl Whiteside. Among their arguments, law enforcement testified that there is no difference between industrial hemp and marijuana and that passing the Hemp Industrial Production Act would send the wrong message to young people. “In the minds of many, … [support for] this will be perceived as a weakening of our anti-marijuana message in our society,” stated Special Agent Williams.
“Fear and intimidation” scared off support for this bill in the Committee, said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Lloyd Casey (D-Northglenn). Hemp activist NORML Kriho of the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project (CO-HIP) agrees. The emotional pressure and scare tactics used by these law enforcement agencies effectively strong-armed the state legislature, forcing them to vote for the police and against the farmers of Colorado.”
One legislator who voted against the measure, Rep. Russell George (R-Rifle), explained in an interview immediately after the hearing how the testimony of law enforcement influenced his decision. “The key factor in making up my vote was when the … DEA … testified and said that under no circumstances would [they] issue any kind of registration or permit,” he said. “That meant anything else we did with this bill was a waste of time and was moot because the bill itself said that … farmer[s] couldn’t go forward without a DEA registration.”
The presence of the DEA at the hearing was especially troubling to both Casey and hemp proponents who noted that, prior to the April 11 hearing, representatives from the agency had been cooperative with the bill’s backers. In the past, the DEA in Colorado had “appeared helpful,” noted Kriho. “We had even been told that … the DEA in Washington, D.C. [was] in the process of reviewing policies related to industrial hemp production. … [However,] after the DEA testimony at the hearing, I believe it is safe to say that the DEA is not working with hemp proponents.”
Despite this setback, activists remain positive that domestic hemp cultivation in Colorado remains a tangible goal. “We [still] have a lot of momentum and a lot of support,” Kriho stated. “We are now in the process of evaluating our strategies and determining our courses of action. We have several interesting options and are excited to be able to pursue them.” Unfortunately, though, any future efforts to legalize industrial hemp in Colorado will be without the efforts of either Lloyd Casey or Reps. Steve Acquafresca (R-Cedaredge) and Bill Jerke (R-Lasalle), all of whom are stepping down after this year’s session. When asked by NORML if Casey foresees any legislators in Colorado willing to carry the torch after he leaves, the Senator’s only response was: “I hope so.”
For more information on industrial hemp in Colorado, please contact CO-HIP at (303) 784-5632. For more information about the industrial uses for hemp, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.