Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stopped in Cortez Sunday to sign a bill protecting hemp farmers who use water stored in federal reservoirs.
The bill was introduced in the state Legislature by Sen. Don Coram, and sponsored by Rep. Marc Catlin. Both are Montrose Republicans.
“We have a tradition of a bill-signing tour to show what your local legislators are up to,” Hickenlooper told a crowd of about 40.
Colorado legalized growing hemp in 2014, but it is still banned at the federal level, creating complications when water from a federal project is used to water it.
Senate Bill 117, titled “Recognize Industrial Hemp Agricultural Product for Agricultural Water Right,” says Colorado water-right holders have the right to use it on hemp if the person is registered by the state to grow hemp for commercial, or research purposes.
During an interview with The Journal, Hickenlooper said the hemp water bill will give farmers some reassurance, and he was cautiously optimistic that it could become a good cash crop for the state.
“Hemp is a very versatile product with a lot of uses, and it does not make sense why it’s illegal,” at the federal level, Hickenlooper said. “Having it grown and processed in the state could create a new niche market.”
Coram said he was motivated to introduce the bill after meeting with a farmer in the Arkansas Valley who said he could not use water from a Bureau of Reclamation facility to water his large hemp farm.
“I said this is wrong because hemp has a great future in Colorado,” he said. “The bill passed 99-1.”
Industrial hemp is used to make fuel, textiles, soaps and much more, but because it is a form of cannabis, it is banned by the federal government, even though it does not have the psychoactive properties of it’s genetic cousin, marijuana.
“The facts are that Colorado water rights are owned under Colorado law, and they can be used to grow hemp, which the state legalized,” said Catlin. “The federal government saying they cannot is overreach.”
On the issue of a federal review of national monuments, including the local Canyons of the Ancients, Hickenlooper said they “should stay” as monuments for protection. Regarding the legislatures recent commitment to spend $1.9 billion for transportation, he said 25 percent would be earmarked for rural areas.
Before the bill signing at Cortez City Hall, Hickenlooper toured the Ute Mountain Trading Co., east of Cortez on U.S. Highway 160. He was joined by his wife Robin and local leaders, including Ute Mountain Chairman Harold Cuthair.
Acting General Manager Tawnie Knight explained how the pottery is made on-site by local Native Tribes. Artist Timothy Root showed off the finished product in the large gallery.
“The Ute pottery designs tell the stories of the bird’s eye, the rains and the mountains,” he said.
A relaxed-looking Hickenlooper was impressed by the pottery manufacturing area, asking questions, and commenting “cool” and “awesome” several times. When told business was good and growing, he asked if they could keep up with demand.
“We can ramp up production to whatever the market demands and we continue to get new contracts,” said general manager Judd Rogers.
About 8:30 a.m., Hickenlooper signed a teacher-shortage bill at Fort Lewis College.
The teacher-shortage bill, sponsored by Coram and Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, “requires the Department of Higher Education in partnership with the Department of Education to examine recruitment, preparation and retention of teachers and to prepare a strategic plan to address teacher shortages in school districts and public schools within the state,” according to the Colorado General Assembly website.