Jerry Kopel


Colorado could have a law allowing farmers to grow hemp, or at the least, see a reasonable debate on the subject in one of the two Colorado legislative houses in 1996. It all depends on how Sen. Lloyd Casey (D-Northglenn) handles the situation.

The bill has some momentum this year after Germany approved cultivation of hemp, as reported by the New York Times "in an industry that is regarded as so unremarkable that the European Union offers subsidies to growers."

According to the Times, hemp can now be legally grown in Germany if it contains less than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) "the substance that gives marijuana and hashish their psychoactive quality." Under German regulations, hemp growers will obtain permits and their crops will be subject to inspection.

Last year, Casey introduced his hemp bill, SB 132, which received one vote in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Casey is in the fourth year of his first term, which he has announced is also his last term. He has not, to put it mildly, had much success with bills introduced in the Senate.

During the first three years, Casey introduced sixteen bills, scored zero in 1993 and 1994, and had one bill, dealing with pharmacy interns, passed in 1995. Since a number of his bills had a reasonable basis for consideration, an objective observer might wonder what is going on.

As one who in 22 years in the Colorado legislature, also had some "dry" spells (but none as long as that of Casey) let me offer some public advice on an approach that WORKS, to Casey and others who find themselves in similar straits.

First, Casey has to decide whether he is sponsoring the hemp bill because it is a measure worthy of becoming law, or whether he enjoys the publicity that surrounds being involved with what some perceive as a controversial issue. If the former, then here are some rules which could lead to positive results.

Rule No. l: Find a receptive soul in the majority party in the other house who will carry your bill as chief sponsor. You can carry the bill in the second house. Casey should seek a chief sponsor from among the House Republicans on the Agriculture Committee, many of whom have good, strong business sense.

He should provide documentary evidence that hemp requires little care, and little or no pesticide or fertilizer.

Rule No.2: Talk to key business people in the textile and printing business. Casey can point out, as the Times article did, that "cloth made from hemp is several times stronger than cotton, and hemp paper can be recycled ten times, as opposed to three times for most pulp-based paper."

Rule No.3: If you get business people interested based on potential additional profits, then you will have access to their legislative lobbyists. Let the lobbyists play a major role in the presentation. Giving cookies made of hemp to agriculture committee members, as was done in 1995, is a dumb way to promote the industry. While it may have made the subject more interesting to the "press" it was very likely a major turnoff. Get serious.

Rule No.4: If money is now available from business interests, you may be able to finance a trip by an expert witness from a country that presently grows hemp plants as agriculture. Legislators will want to know what happens, what profits are made, what safeguards are provided.

Rule No.5: Totally divorce your operation from individuals or groups that see hemp as a way to legalize marijuana directly or indirectly. Let one of them testify in favor of your bill and it goes down the tubes.

Rule No.6: Visit the editorial pages of the Post, News, Gazette Telegraph, Pueblo Chieftain, and any other papers with large circulations. Take along the interested business people and present your case. Favorable editorials don't guarantee you success, but bad editorials make it very easy to vote "no".

* * *

The word "petulant" is defined as "given to fits of ill temper, peevish, impatient, irritable, capricious". All of which can define the recent actions of House Speaker Newt Gingrich who was petulant about having to exit Air Force One from the rear door.

However, in defense of Speaker Gingrich, perhaps we should remember that petulance is a characteristic flaw in most politicians, even those in Colorado. Some examples from the recent past:

House Speaker Bev Bledsoe, as he observed reporters running after Gov. Roy Romer. "What are they doing that for? I've got more power than he has."

Gov. Richard Lamm, in an aside to another upon entering a room to give a presentation. "Gawddammit, tell them to stand up."

Rep. Paul Schauer, after losing the Speaker's election to Chuck Berry, blamed the speaker-to-be's wife, Maria Garcia, for having lobbied the loss.

U.S. Senator Ben Campbell, who switched political parties soon after the failure of someone to extend an invitation to Campbell's wife to meet with the Japanese Emperor and Empress at the Governor's mansion.

Gov. Roy Romer, whose active verbs respond to anyone or thing standing in the way of his intentions: "Crush, roll over, mangle, destroy, wipe out, etc."

Rep. Jerry Kopel, after casting one of only two votes against an interim committee bill in 1981 to establish the Colorado lottery: "I'm going to fight it with every breath I have in 1982. This bill will pass over my dead body."


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience in the legislature.

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