Industrial hemp

Industrial hemp. (Courtesy Colorado Department of Agriculture)

The Polis administration and Attorney General Phil Weiser criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed new rules on hemp cultivation, warning that stringent requirements and steep penalties would jeopardize the investments in the state’s 87,000-acre industry.

“The USDA’s interim final rule for hemp production claims to respect principles of federalism and to allow the ‘laboratories of the states’ to continue their efforts at innovation,” said Weiser. “The rule, however, unnecessarily upsets the delicate federal-state balance, trampling on states’ ability to develop their hemp industries effectively.”

In a letter dated Jan. 28, state leaders submitted 28 pages of comments to the department. Among Colorado’s objections was the requirement to destroy hemp crops whose tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, content exceeded 0.3%. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, although at much higher concentrations.

Since the federal 2014 Farm Bill permitted hemp cultivation, Colorado has seen 3,360 acres worth $115 million destroyed to comply with the 0.3% limit. The state proposes alternatives to destruction, such as reallocating hemp that exceeds the limit to other, non-consumable purposes; “remediation” of the THC content; or simply increasing the threshold for destruction to 1% THC content.

If the proposed crop-destruction rules were enforced in 2019, the state wrote, it would have caused a loss of $154 million in crops.

“The Colorado hemp industry cannot sustain such losses,” the letter reads. “It is farmers whose investment is at risk, farmers who will be fined, farmers who may be criminally liable, and farmers who will pay the ultimate cost of propelling hemp genetics to stability.”

Allowing THC content up to 1% would preserve approximately 94% of crops deemed illegal. The USDA rule does require testing laboratories to include a margin of error in their calculations, and would not deem growers negligent if the THC content reached up to 0.5%.

The General Assembly passed a resolution in support of the state’s position, and nearly all of Colorado’s congressional delegation issued comments in support of the letter to the USDA.

“The proposed interim final rule, while an important first step, often stands at odds with Colorado’s deep experience and knowledge of the industry and may very well hinder best practices for hemp development,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Crow.

“Eastern Colorado farmers are a crucial part of the hemp supply chain. We must ensure that this rule provides our farmers with the flexibility and certainty they need to establish long-term success while balancing public safety concerns,” said U.S. Rep. Ken Buck.

The state sent the letter to the USDA on hemp paper to underscore the utility of the crop.

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