In 2013, I received a call from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking me, as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to support a pilot program to allow farmers to grow hemp. Knowing Colorado farmers’ interest in the crop, I jumped at the chance and pushed to include the program in the 2014 Farm Bill.
Over the next four years, Colorado’s hemp industry boomed. From 2014 to 2018, our hemp cultivation increased six-fold. As the industry grew, I visited hemp businesses and farms across our state, including stops at State Senator Don Coram’s operation in Montrose and at Colorado Cultivars in Eaton. Each visit underscored the crop’s versatility and potential. Coloradans were turning hemp into clothing, food, and animal feed. They were making plastics and CBD oils for pain and inflammation. In short, they were turning this new crop, which is well suited for our arid climate, into a welcome source of income.
But as Colorado’s hemp businesses have continued to grow, they have run into obstacles from Washington. Our farmers are worried about maintaining access to their water. They are unable to buy crop insurance or transport seeds. Some have encountered red tape opening a bank account or applying for federal grants.
In response, Coloradans have taken action. When the state passed a law to protect water access for hemp growers, our office followed their lead and introduced similar legislation in Congress. We pressed the Obama administration to make federal resources available to hemp growers. More recently, we pushed the Trump administration to help them access banking services. Last spring, we introduced a bill to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity.
We had a breakthrough this year when the Senate Agriculture Committee adopted our language to legalize hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. Now that we’ve passed the Farm Bill and the President has signed it into law, hemp cultivation is fully legal for the first time in 50 years. That means less uncertainty and more opportunity for our hemp farmers, small businesses, and manufacturers.
In the years since McConnell’s call, I’ve learned more about hemp than I ever expected to as a United States senator. More than anything, it’s given me the opportunity to see more of our state’s boundless creativity, determination, and entrepreneurship. In the face of barriers and uncertainty, Coloradans have led the country in demonstrating hemp’s potential. If we continue to curb Washington’s influence, there’s no limit to what our state can achieve.
Michael Bennet, Colorado’s senior U.S. Senator, serves as Ranking Member of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources.