Late last month, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law affirming hemp farmers have a right to use their water rights for hemp cultivation, even if the water is held in federal reservoirs.
Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose) introduced Senate Bill 117 (SB117) in February. The legislation confirms that a person with an absolute or conditional water right decreed for agricultural use in Colorado may use that water for the growth or cultivation of industrial hemp if the person is registered by the department of agriculture to grow industrial hemp in the state.
Colorado legalized cultivation of industrial hemp along with marijuana in 2013, and created a licensing program for the crop the following year, but the federal government continues to maintain a ban on commercial hemp farming. This has created issues for Colorado farmers trying to utilize water from federal projects for their hemp crops.
Rep. Marc Catlin (R-Montrose) cosponsored the bill. He told the Durango Herald the federal government doesn’t have any authority to control Colorado water rights.
“The facts are that Colorado water rights are owned under Colorado law, and they can be used to grow hemp, which the state legalized,” said Catlin. “The federal government saying they cannot is overreach.”
Coram told the paper he was motivated to file the legislation after meeting with a farmer who said he could not use water from a Federal Bureau of Reclamation facility to water his large hemp farm. According to The Journal he told the Colorado Senate Republicans group it was crucial to eliminate the ambiguity in the law.
It was time to end the uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding this question, by recognizing industrial hemp as an agricultural product for which a person with a water right decreed for agricultural use can use the water. We can broaden options for Colorado farmers and strengthen the state’s farm sector overall by finally putting to rest any doubts about whether growers of industrial hemp can use federal reclamation water on those crops.
Sharon King, a local hemp activist, told The Journal she was thankful for the legislative action.
It’s always been a concern for local hemp farmers, and a lot of them stopped growing because they did not want to risk losing water rights. This support from the state gives them some reassurance.
FEDERAL FARM BILL
Early in 2014, then-President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”
…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.
In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions, or within state pilot programs – for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. Colorado law ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, states like Colorado, and others including Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, California and Vermont, set the stage to nullify the federal hemp ban in practice by simply ignoring federal prohibition and legalizing industrial hemp production within their state borders.
While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, these states clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state. According to The Journal, hemp permits have increased 138 percent in the last two years in Colorado. In 2014, 131 permits were issued for 1,811 acres; and in 2016, 312 permits were issued for to grow 8,988 acres of hemp.
HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP
According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.
During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, Hemp for Victory!