Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act Is Good News for Indian Country

Author: Garrett L. Davey, Esq.

Tribes seeking to grow industrial hemp programs on reservations may no longer have to worry about the legality of using federal water reserves. Last week, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Energy & Water Development appropriations bill for 2018. Within this bill is the Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act, (the “Act”) which was designed to clarify the legal conflict surrounding the use of federal water to grow industrial hemp.

The 2014 Farm Bill authorized the cultivation of industrial hemp under certain circumstances if legal under state law. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the use of federal water reserves to grow hemp is prohibited. This conflict has generated confusion for hemp growers using federal water in states where hemp cultivation is legal. For American Indian tribes relying almost exclusively on federal water reserves, this conflict is a major obstacle to growing hemp in Indian country. Thus, the new bill would provide clarity for tribes by authorizing the use of federal water rights to grow industrial hemp.

The Act, introduced by Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and four other western senators, would clarify the federal policy regarding water use for industrial hemp. It would allow farmers with water rights to grow hemp, even if the water passes through federal facilities (Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a similar bill in May 2017 to protect hemp farmers in Colorado using federal water reserves).  The Act has moved out of committee as part of the larger appropriations bill.

Passing the appropriations bill would remove one more obstacle to hemp cultivation in Indian country. McAllister Garfield advises tribes in Indian country looking to grow industrial hemp on tribal lands. The firm also advocates on behalf of tribal clients at the federal and state levels, working with the relevant agencies to make hemp in Indian country a reality. Please contact McAllister Garfield if you are interested in starting hemp programs in your area