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Hemp measure gets mixed reviews

Rep. Polis wants feds to respect state rules
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., holding an American flag made of hemp on the floor of the House of Representatives, has long pushed for the plant to be legal to grow. Industrial hemp looks much like marijuana, but it does not have its psychoactive properties. Federal law prohibits growing hemp, but Colorado’s recent adoption of recreational marijuana made hemp cultivation legal in Colorado.

The recently proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Act would remove industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.

The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, would require the federal government to respect state laws that allow farmers to grow the crop. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that outlaws domestic hemp production.

“The federal ban on hemp has been a waste of taxpayer dollars that ignores science, suppresses innovation and subverts the will of states that have chosen to incorporate this versatile crop into their economies,” Polis, said in a statement. “I am hopeful that Congress will build on last year’s progress on hemp research and pilot programs by passing the Industrial Hemp Farming Act to allow this historical American crop to once again thrive on our farmlands.”

The Senate also has developed its own version of the bill, which is being co-sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But the bill has received mixed reviews from advocates.

Lynda Parker, vice president of the Rocky Mountain Hemp Association, said lifting the federal ban would eliminate the remaining constraints for launching an industry with the crop.

Colorado passed a law in 2013 that established a program within the Department of Agriculture to oversee the regulation of commercial hemp.

But Parker said while Colorado’s government has done everything it can at the state level, hemp farmers still face federal barriers. For one, they cannot get insurance for any crop that contains hemp. Crop insurance is subsidized by the federal government and does not cover hemp.

Additionally, Parker says, industrial hemp farmers have had trouble accessing the banking system. Banks may be reluctant to provide loans to farmers with hemp in their crops to avoid federal prosecution.

“There is certainly is a market for hemp,” Parker said. “But until there is a confidence that it is going to be treated like any other crop, it won’t takeoff.

“In terms of really launching an industry, we really need this to happen at the federal level. The sooner the better,” she said.

But Jason Lauve, founder and executive director of the grass-roots group Hemp Cleans, raised concerns about the legislation. He told The Durango Herald that while the bill is a “great move in the right direction,” the idea of lifting the federal ban is an “illusion.”

Lauve said the bill does not make clear where the ban is coming from, whether it is the Food and Drug Administration or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In a letter to Polis obtained by The Durango Herald, Richard Rose of Medicinal Hemp Association writes on behalf of 18 hemp organizations, including Hemp Cleans, urging for provisions that would block the FDA’s enforcement of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 on cannabinoids.

The hemp groups fear that the presence of nonpsychoactive cannabinoids derived from low-THC hemp, which has become increasingly prominent over the past six years, would cause the FDA to view the emerging industry as “ripe for its regulation.”

The letter describes nonpsychoactive cannabinoids as “being proven effective for a wide range of conditions in human and pet populations.”

“Such a provision is imperative for the continued development of Hemp in the state of Colorado,” the letter reads.

It continues: “American farmers need to be on a level playing field with Europe, and Colorado Hemp farmers want to take the lead on production of non-psychoactive Cannabidiol. Many companies are poised to do so, having invested several dozen millions of dollars in the state. (Cannabinoids have) the potential to transform farming in Colorado, and the resulting health of the population.”

The letter also calls for a 1 percent maximum THC level in industrial hemp, rather than a 0.3 percent limit. It notes that Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington all had a 1 percent maximum THC as their standard for hemp, and Alabama and Iowa had a 3 percent maximum.

“THC is not a diversion risk, especially in a marijuana-legal state,” the letter reads.

It adds, “As you can see, these standards for Hemp are not new and theoretical ideas, they are practical and already in use as Best Practices elsewhere.”

Michael Cipriano is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

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