Colorado hemp bill’s author dismisses claims of conflict

Legislation intended to keep federal water flowing to Colorado’s hemp crop — a growing industry in the state, if you’ll forgive the expression — has unexpectedly led to an anonymous accusation that the bill’s sponsor has a conflict of interest. So says a report in the Durango Herald.

Spoiler alert: The law seems to be on the sponsor’s side, as the Herald reports.

Senate Bill 117, adopted by lawmakers in the 2017 session and now awaiting the governor’s signature, was supposed to quell controversy, not cause it. As explained in a press release by the state Senate Republican majority when the bill was approved by the legislature last month, industrial hemp is misunderstood because of its association with marijuana, and that has led to bad policy by the federal government:

After Colorado voters approved hemp’s cultivation as part of a broader legalization of marijuana, questions arose about the legality of using federal reclamation water to grow a  crop often wrongly confused with marijuana.

Montrose Republican state Sen. Don Coram, who introduced the measure, said in the press release that the bill “ensures that Washington can’t deny hemp growers access to water from federal reclamation projects, due to disagreements between Washington and Denver on drug and farm policies.”

Now, the Herald’s Luke Perkins reports Coram is getting called out because he is “affiliated with an industrial hemp production and processing company, Paradox Venture, and could stand to gain from the legislation.” The allegation showed up in the Herald’s mail box in an unsigned letter.

The letter’s author may have it wrong, as Perkins points out:

Coram said he is a founder of Paradox Ventures, a hemp production start-up based in Naturita but doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest, as the bill does not single out this company or Montrose County.

His position appears to be backed up by a state statute and legislative rules that exempt legislation affecting an entire “class,” in this case industrial hemp growers, from being considered an ethical conflict.

SB 117 affects the whole state and was a response to water rights being withheld from a hemp farmer on the Front Range.

Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro offered backup today via Twitter:

Be sure to read Perkins’s full report for more background.

And just in case you had lingering doubts, industrial hemp is not about getting high. It’s used in wide-ranging products; here’s a brief primer courtesy of Wikipedia:

(I)ndustrial hempis a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that…can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp are both members of the species Cannabis sativa and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol… (h)emp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects.

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