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Hemp grows in at a hemp farm in Montrose County. (Photo special to The Colorado Sun)

One of the authors of the law that legalized marijuana in Colorado is taking aim at a ballot question seeking to change the legal definition of hemp in Colorado.

Attorney Rob Corry has ramped up 11th-hour opposition to Amendment X, arguing the legislature-floated ballot question could hurt Colorado’s nascent hemp industry if it passes. He fears the amendment could allow the federal government to define hemp, “which would destroy our hemp industry,” he said on Friday, shortly after posting a letter asking Colorado lawmakers who supported the bill to debate the proposed amendment to the constitution.

Right now, Colorado law says hemp cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound that makes marijuana stony.

Amendment X, which went through legislative committee meetings and was unanimously approved by the legislature, asks voters to amend the constitution by removing the definition of industrial hemp created in Amendment 64, which legalized recreational use and sale of marijuana. Amendment X allows the definition to be created by “federal law or state statute.”

Rep. Don Pabon, a Democrat from northwest Denver, sponsored the bill alongside Democratic Sen. Mike Feberg, Republican Sen. Vicki Marble and Republican Rep. Lori Saine. He said Amendment X was “preemptive and proactive.” The bipartisan lawmakers met with hemp industry businesses and supporters before shaping the ballot initiative. It was scripted to swiftly enable the industry to align with any change in federal law and begin expanding Colorado’s thriving hemp industry beyond the state’s borders.

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Or if the federal government changed the definition of hemp in a direction the industry did not like, state lawmakers could swiftly react with the state’s own definition to keep the industry vibrant, Pabon said.

In June of this year, the lawmakers counted 688 registered hemp growers in Colorado, cultivating hemp on 23,500 acres and 3.9 million square-feet of indoor space.

As the law stands under Amendment 64, any change in the definition of hemp would require voter approval, Pabon said.

“This gives us maximum flexibility as national recognition grows that hemp is a viable product and there’s interest in cross-state-line business,” Pabon said. “We just want to make sure, at our disposal, we have the ability to adjust the definition if we need to in a way that has to go through the Colorado legislature.”

Amendment X would not allow the federal definition of hemp to trump the state definition, Pabon said.

Corry is troubled by the word “or” in the ballot language that allows hemp to be defined by “federal law or state statute.”

Remember, he said, the federal government considers all cannabis-derived products, including CBD oil extracted from hemp, a violation of federal drug laws.

“If we put this in place and Colorado’s definition is now the federal definition, we are opening ourselves up for Trump Administration interference within our industry,” Corry said. “I don’t understand the need for this. Why would we tamper with the nation’s leading hemp industry in our state and try to fix something that’s not broken?”

But pending legislation in Congress may change the legal status of hemp, hence Amendment X, Pabon said. It’s designed to enable the state’s industry to capitalize on a federal shift in hemp’s legality.

Corry said he only recently studied the Amendment X ballot language. There is no committee pushing the proposal. No ad campaigns. No revenue to support it. There’s no opposition either. Until now. Corry has formed the “Keep Hemp Legal” issue committee.

The issue seems to have moved onto the ballot with little for-or-against discussion in an election season with several weighty issues facing voters.

All the discussion was six months ago, Pabon said, when the measure moved through two committee hearings and won unanimous support in the statehouse.

“We never heard any opposition,” Pabon said. “I don’t understand why they are coming forward now.”


Jason Blevins

The Colorado Sun — Email: Twitter: @jasonblevins