Defining Industrial Hemp in Colorado

- Christian Burney

Hemp is a big issue in Colorado, as many of you are aware by now. With big issues come ballot items, and the Colorado state election ballot book is a big one — there are 13 items on the state ballot. Now, these cover common state issues such as funding for education, transportation and, with the census coming up, congressional and legislative redistricting.

For the most part, it’s pretty standard stuff. But Coloradans are also faced with an interesting hemp dilemma that must be solved by Nov. 6. The fourth item on the state ballot is Amendment X. The item poses the following question to voters: Should the definition of “industrial hemp” be removed from the Colorado state constitution and instead use either the federal definition or refer to state statutes?

It is an interesting question. The definition of “industrial hemp” was added to the state constitution in 2012 as part of Amendment 69, which is most famous for its legalization of recreational marijuana. The state definition currently matches the federal one:

“The term ‘industrial hemp’ includes the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part or derivative of such plant, including seeds of such plant, whether growing or not, that is used exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed) with a tetrahydrocannabinols concentration of no more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis,” according to the USDA.

The definition of industrial hemp could have big consequences.

First, if the definition is removed from the state constitution, deferring to federal law, and then federal law changes out of favor (or more out of favor, as the case may be), Colorado hemp farmers could be negatively impacted. But then again, if federal law were to change in favor of the hemp industry, as some have predicted may happen with the upcoming farm bill, then this deferment wouldn’t seem like a big deal. (Of course, we would need a farm bill for that. Where is that thing?)

Leaving hemp in the state constitution comes with its own set of problems, too. The constitution is supposed to protect ideas; statutes are reserved for legislation, which is guided by the constitution. The definition of hemp seems more like a statutory issue, particularly if changing it to react to the growth and evolution of an industry is a valid strategy in the future. Leaving hemp in the constitution makes it harder to change its definition later, but also begs the question of what other commodities or specialty crops “need” to be constitutionally defined?

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