Colorado Voters Approve Ballot Initiative to Remove Definition of Hemp from State Constitution

Defining industrial hemp will now be the responsibility of the Colorado Legislature, which is likely to adopt the federal definition so that the state can be more competitive.

Colorado voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure that will remove the definition of industrial hemp from the Colorado Constitution. With about 60 percent of voter support, Colorado residents passed Amendment X, aimed at ensuring farmers and producers are in a better position to compete if hemp is legalized federally.

Amendment X requires that the state’s definition of hemp matches that of federal law. In the case that federal law allows states to define industrial hemp, then the responsibility of defining industrial hemp in the hands of state lawmakers, who would still likely adopt the federal definition.

Previously, under Amendment 64 the state constitution defined hemp as cannabis with no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the same level as in federal law. Anything over that threshold had been considered marijuana by the State of Colorado.

That THC threshold currently remains in place, even after Colorado’s vote. However, with industrial hemp out of the Colorado Constitution, the Colorado Legislature now has the freedom to change the THC limits for cannabis that can be considered hemp.

The effort to get Amendment X on the ballot was spearheaded by Vicki Marble, a Republican member of the Colorado State Senate. With the help of co-sponsors Sen. Stephen Fenberg (D-18), Rep. Dan Pabon (D-4), and Rep. Lori Saine (R-63), Marble persuaded more than the two-thirds of the 100-member state legislature needed to refer the measure directly onto the ballot. Only five Colorado lawmakers voted against adding it.

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Why Remove the Definition of Hemp?

Colorado’s Amendment X is aimed at ensuring Colorado’s definition of hemp matches that of the federal government’s so that the state is more nimble in the case that national hemp standards change.

While the federal government’s current definition of hemp also carries a 0.3 percent THC limit, Congress is in the midst of negotiating details of the pending Farm Bil, an omnibus, multi-year law would legalize hemp nationwide. Some proponents are pushing to include language that raises the THC maximum to 1 percent.

Colorado is the only state that had a definition of industrial hemp in its constitution. Industry leaders and stakeholders were concerned that without the passage of Amendment X, Colorado would remain limited to hemp with THC levels of no more than 0.3 percent even if federal standards change, putting farmers and producers at a competitive disadvantage.

It’s difficult to amend Colorado’s Constitution due to Amendment 71, a controversial “Raise the Bar” amendment passed in 2016 that requires groups to collect signatures from 2 percent of registered voters in all 35 State Senate districts in order to put constitutional changes on the ballot.

Now that the definition of hemp is removed from the Colorado Constitution, state lawmakers have the flexibility to quickly adapt to whatever federal definitions are made.

Generally, farmers and hemp industry leaders were in favor of the amendment. However, some opposed Amendment X, concerned about leaving state hemp protections in the hands of politicians.

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