Though it’s legal to grow industrial hemp in Colorado, many farmers are breaking the law if they try to water their crops.
In western states, water rights are governed by complex laws that determine how farmers irrigate their crops. Even rainwater that falls on land owned by a farmer may be affected by federal water rights laws, and the federal government still essentially considers hemp illegal.
“That has been an issue almost from the onset that has stopped people from growing industrial hemp unless they had wells of their own or were using city water, which is difficult when you move into real agricultural areas,” said Duane Sinning, seed coordinator at the Colorado Department of Agriculture, in an interview with Ministry of Hemp.
Though Colorado recently passed legislation addressing hemp water rights, the law still needs to change at the federal level. In the meantime, hemp farmers are struggling across the West with thirsty plants. In Montana, at least one farmer lost her crops due to a federal water dispute.
Fortunately, hemp has bipartisan support in Congress and a bill called the Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act would make water supplies available to every farmer who has the right to use them on other agricultural crops. Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee added the act to a must-pass energy and water funding bill, where it has a good chance of being signed into law.
Veronica Carpio, a hemp farmer who operates Grow Hemp Colorado, a hemp advocacy and education site, applauded the measure.
“Hemp is supposed to be treated just like corn and carrots so trying to disallow the allocated water for that particular premise is not OK,” Carpio told us. “So that’s a major fix.”
When we caught up with Sinning and Carpio by phone last week, both described a thriving industrial hemp industry in Colorado that’s strongly supported by the state government, but hampered by legal questions and red tape surrounding the crop.
12,000 acres and counting: A successful state industry with support from Colorado lawmakers
Sinning told us that about 12,000 acres were registered with his agency for growing hemp this year, which will probably equate to about 9,000 acres successfully grown and harvested by the end of the season. He also mentioned an additional 2.1 million square feet of hemp is grown indoors in the state.
Carpio, who was one of the first registered legal hemp growers in the state, told us Colorado hemp farmers can be divided into two groups based on how they use and grow the plant.
“One is traditional hemp farmers, which is pollinated crops, so they’re growing seed and they’re growing both female and male plants,” she explained.
Though it’s legal to grow hemp in Colorado, farmers are breaking the law if they try to water their crops. Learn about hemp farming water rights in the US.