Protecting water rights for hemp farmers

Last week, I got an email blast from Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and one of the updates was about protecting water rights for hemp farmers. I’ve always been curious about where the hemp and marijuana industries differ and overlap, so I took the click bait. Here’s an excerpt:

A pilot program created by the 2014 Farm Bill granted permission to state Departments of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp. The Bureau of Reclamation, however, prohibits the use of federally-controlled water for growing industrial hemp. These conflicting policies create confusion for farmers who grow, or wish to grow, industrial hemp using water from federal reservoirs. The Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act would clarify federal policy, ensuring owners of water rights can use their water, even if it passes through federal facilities, to cultivate industrial hemp.

Colorado’s industrial hemp farmers should not be restricted by over-burdensome federal regulations that don’t respect Colorado’s water laws. This bipartisan legislation recognizes our farmers’ right to access Colorado water and makes sure the federal government cannot interfere with out their operations. Coloradans know how best to manage our state’s water and it is time for the federal government to get out of the way and allow Colorado’s farming operations to succeed.

hemp farmers
Hemp farmers need access to water typically held in reservoirs

First, I think it’s interesting how the current conflict between state and federal positions on marijuana play out. In this case, the federal government is saying that water flowing through a federal reservoir cannot be used for hemp farming because marijuana in the form of hemp is still illegal at the federal level. And yet, hemp farming is legal in Colorado and the hemp farmers own the rights to the water. I don’t think hemp farmers have the influence of other farming groups, but many seem aligned on supporting state’s rights. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and several other western state senators have joined Gardner in this effort.

Second, I think it’s interesting that Gardner (or his copywriter) used such an aggressive tone. The use of phrases like “over-burdensome,” “don’t respect Colorado,” and “get out of the way” show how frustrating it is to work at the intersection of state and federal laws that conflict. I’m going to follow the Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act the same way I follow hockey. Sometimes the fight is more memorable than the outcome of the game!

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