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Vermont, Colorado Legislatures Take Steps to Allow Industrial Hemp


April 1996

The state legislatures in Vermont and Colorado are moving to allow the manufacture of industrial hemp.

On February 28 by a vote of 108 to 33, the Vermont House approved a two-year study of hemp cultivation to be conducted at the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture (Andrew Nelson, Bennington Banner (Bennington, Vermont), February 29, 1996, p. 1). On April 4, the Senate Agriculture Committee reported the bill to the Senate.

If enacted, Vermont would become the first state to allow a test program for industrial hemp. Governor Howard Dean (D) said he would veto the bill, but the wide margin of the House vote suggests that a veto override is likely ("Family Values: Hemp Farming," The Journal (Alexandria, Virginia), March 4, 1996, p. 2).

Before the hemp test plots can be started, the Vermont commissioner of agriculture would have to negotiate with federal authorities. The federal government might have to approve the experiment because marijuana, which can be harvested from hemp, is regulated as a drug under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Drug Enforcement Administration officials threatened that if farmers are allowed to grow hemp, they would be subject to raids, seizures, and prison time (James Bandler, "Legislators in Vt. Considering Hemp as a Cash Crop," Boston Globe, February 11, 1996, p. 46).

The Vermont bill is a limited version of a Colorado bill that was defeated last year but has recently found new life. On March 29, the Colorado Senate passed S.B. 96-067, which would allow farmers to grow hemp. The bill was recently introduced in the Colorado House, where a hearing is scheduled this month.

A hemp bill sponsored by Sen. Lloyd Casey (D-Northglenn) was killed last year in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Last year Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Philip W. Perry submitted testimony to the Committee that even if Colorado legalized industrial hemp, the DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies would continue to enforce the federal law in the state (see "Colorado Hemp Bill Dies," NewsBriefs, March 1995, p. 16).

The hemp bill passed by the Senate and pending in the House includes provisions not contained in the previous legislation. The current legislation calls for Industrial Hemp Production Associations to assist the Commissioner of Agriculture with tracking and enforcement related to hemp manufacture. It would require hemp farmers to register with the state before they start planting. For the 1996 season, no more than 40 acres can be planted, to be sold by the Industrial Hemp Production Associations. The bill also includes a defense to state or federal marijuana prosecution if a farmer is in compliance with the bill.

[This defense raises an interesting question of conflict of laws and the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. States do not have the power to permit activities barred by Congress. But the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in U.S. v. Lopez last year, and Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida regarding Indian gaming decided last month create uncertainty that a Colorado provision would automatically be struck down. If enacted and challenged, Colorado might assert that it is regulating intrastate commerce that is outside Congress' power in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution.--EES]

[For more information about Colorado's bill, contact the office of Sen. Lloyd Casey, State Capitol Building, 200 East Colfax, Denver, CO 80203, 303-866-4865, or the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project (CO-HIP), P.O. Box 729, Nederland, CO 80466, 303-784-5632, For a copy of the Colorado bill, contact the NewsBriefs office.]