It is good to find simple solutions to what seem to be complicated problems.
That is the case with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature on Senate Bill 117, now a law that declares Colorado water rights-holders can use their water to grow industrial hemp for commercial or research purposes, even if that water is stored in a federal Bureau of Reclamation facility.
The bill provides an incentive – and needed security – for Colorado farmers to grow hemp, a once-popular American crop that was criminalized along with its cousin marijuana, even though hemp contains minimal amounts of marijuana’s psychoactive compounds.
A versatile crop, hemp is undergoing a renaissance due to its many uses in making fiber, fuels, textiles and soap, and for its growing and effective medicinal uses. It is no stranger to our continent. Jamestown colonists were ordered to plant hemp in 1619, and it remained an important crop in the American colonial period and well into the 20th century.
The reasons for hemp’s criminalization are the complicated part of the saga, and closely tied, hemp supporters maintain, to undue influence from the country’s petrochemical industry.
Both the bill’s Senate author and its House sponsor, Montrose Republicans Sen. Don Coram and Rep. Marc Catlin, used solid conservative philosophy in pressing for the passage of their legislation. Because Colorado legalized growing hemp in 2014, they argued, this is a states’ rights issue.
Colorado water rights are privately owned, Catlin explained at a ceremony for the bill’s signing in Cortez on May 21, so the federal government is overreaching its authority by declaring that water stored in a federal facility cannot be used to grow hemp.
We wholeheartedly agree with Gov. Hickenlooper, who said that “it does not make sense why (hemp) is illegal” in the eyes of the federal government. And with Sen. Coram, who believes that “hemp has a great future in Colorado.”
Does that future include Souhwest Colorado as well as the state’s vast farmlands east of the Front Range? Right now that is all speculation. But thanks to Coram, Catlin and the governor, we now have an opportunity to see.