WASHINGTON — A measure that would allow Colorado colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for research and agricultural purposes was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday with support from both Democrats and Republicans.
The measure would apply only to the eight states that permit the production of industrial hemp, which it defines as the plant Cannabis sativa with less than a THC content of 0.3 percent.
Cannabis sativa is one type of marijuana plant, and lawmakers alluded to the national discussion over public pot as they debated the measure late Wednesday night.
“It’s not a drug. It doesn’t have anything to do with marijuana,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) said in an interview shortly after the House approved the amendment to the farm bill. “George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew industrial hemp on their farms. Betsy Ross made the first American flag out of hemp.
Polis sponsored the amendment and managed debate on the House floor Wednesday night. Five U.S. Representatives from Colorado also voted “aye” on the measure – Democrats Diana DeGette of Denver and Ed Perlmutter of Golden as well as Republicans Mike Coffman of Aurora, Cory Gardner of Yuma, and Scott Tipton of Cortez.
Opponents suggested the measure would all but sanction the mass production of pot.
“I just don’t see (industrial hemp) as necessary. I’ll have to look at it more closely. I know it has some positive aspects,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) said in an interview.
“(I)t wasn’t a surprise to me to see that Colorado is the state that has legalized marijuana and so we also see the advocacy for this coming from the same place. Perhaps it’s a coincidence …” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said on the House floor Wednesday.
The measure passed 225 to 200. One hundred sixty two Democrats and 63 Republicans voted aye, while 32 Democrats and 168 Republicans voted no.
While the House approved the amendment, it rejected the underlying bill. The five-year, half-trillion dollar farm bill did not clear the lower chamber and will need to be reworked before the end of the fiscal year for the federal subsidies to continue.
Officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency warned if the measure was signed into law, it would “make it virtually impossible” for law enforcement officials to determine the THC content of a marijuana plant, according to a DEA memo the Huffington Post obtained. THC is the main psychoactive part of the cannabis plant.
By contrast, pro-marijuana legalization interest groups emphasized the economic benefits of the bill. They said U.S. retailers sell $300 million worth of hemp products, but noted that most states don’t allow producers to tap into this market.
Polis said he has worked with Kentucky senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to convince the Senate to adopt the measure.
In addition to Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia permit the production of industrial hemp.