Counties back hemp legislation

VALLEY — After hearing a presentation from Monte Robertson of the San Luis Valley Hemp Company, the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association unanimously voted to sign a letter addressed to Third Congressional District Representative Scott Tipton along with Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner in support of various industrial hemp legislation. The bills aim to declassify the plant as a schedule I controlled substance.

Though hemp was used for textile purposes for decades and is a separate variety of the same cannabis genus as marijuana, it is treated equally under the Controlled Substance Act. Industrial hemp production wasn't possible in Colorado until Amendment 64 passed in 2012 and the 2014 Farm Bill allowed the rest of the country to grow the plant for research purposes. The Valley's short growing season works well for the crop that needs little water, but the classification makes it difficult to secure loans or other federal funds.

"This is extremely important to the future of the San Luis Valley’s agricultural, water, and banking communities," states the letter.

The letter endorses the Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 and the Industrial Hemp Banking Act. Sen. Mitch McConnell introduced the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 recently and this week both Bennet and Gardner co-sponsored the bill.

“It’s past time for Washington to recognize the growth of hemp as an agricultural commodity and legalize it nationwide,” Bennet said in a press release.

"Removing industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act is a commonsense move which would create jobs and get the government out of the way of Colorado’s farmers and agricultural industry,” Gardner added in the release. “Hemp has the potential to be a major boon to Colorado agriculture, giving farmers another viable and profitable option for their fields.”

Federal and state laws define marijuana as cannabis plants with more than .3 percent of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). If it has less than .3 percent then it is classified as hemp, making it safe to ingest without getting high. The seeds can also produce cannabidiol (CBD) oil for medicinal purposes without including THC's psychoactive effect.

To make hemp a safe cash crop the Colorado Department of Agriculture is developing a certified seed program so the plant will grow with guaranteed low THC levels. Adams State University, which has hosted two annual conventions on hemp, partnered with CDA, International Hemp Solution and Bija Hemp in 2017 to work on certified hemp seeds.

The San Luis Valley Hemp Company currently manufactures shelled hemp seeds rich in potassium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, hemp protein powder, hemp seed oil and CBD oil. Similar items, along with fiber products, are available nation-wide but are made with imported hemp.

"We're pushing a billion dollars a year worth of hemp products that the United States imports," Robertson said. "None of that revenue went to our farmers.

"We have an opportunity here in the Valley to really be the thought leaders and show the rest of the world how we can work together as counties and as a community to create some really good industries internal to the Valley. There's no time like the present to show the folks in Washington that we're united on this front."