We've all heard about how the Declaration of Independence was penned on hemp paper and how our founding fathers grew the stuff like it was, well, a weed. Their reasons for growing it were sensible enough: hemp offered unparalleled capital potential as a cash crop with its seemingly limitless industrial applications, not to mention its nutritional properties. A couple of centuries and a failed Drug War later, a California state senator is making an effort to revive some of the common sense found in this earlier, agrarian era.
On Tuesday, the California State Senate passed SB 676, Sen. Mark Leno's (San Francisco) bill, that would effectively legalize the production of hemp in the state for industrial purposes. Two prior attempts by the senator to regulate hemp production were vetoed by former Governor Schwarzenegger.
This measure would redefine “marijuana” to exclude industrial hemp. The new definition for hemp would include non-psychoactive fiber or oilseed crops with no more than 0.3 percent of THC. Crops would have to undergo testing to certify that their THC content was within the legal limit, mimicking established protocol in Canada.
So why is Sen. Leno so bent on legalizing hemp? He expounds on the “golden opportunity” hemp offers California in a recent blog post:
"If you like shopping at your local natural foods or specialty grocery store, you’ve probably noticed the growing popularity of hemp as an ingredient in food and skin care products. Hemp seed, which is high in protein and essential fatty acids, is found in everything from bread, energy bars and waffles to coffee and protein powder. Thanks to its natural antioxidants and moisturizing oil, hemp is also a common ingredient in soaps, shampoos and lotions. Perhaps your favorite T-shirt is even made of hemp, which is an excellent alternative to cotton."
"Even though most of these consumer products are created by California companies, our farmers are prohibited from growing industrial hemp. Instead of buying hemp from local farmers, local manufacturers are importing thousands of dollars of hemp seed, oil and fiber from growers overseas."
"California farmers are missing out on a golden opportunity to tap into the growing industrial hemp products business of food, clothing, shelter, paper and fuel, which would greatly benefit our state’s economy and family farmers. Industrial hemp is a perfect, environmentally sustainable crop for our state. It requires little or no pesticides and herbicides and produces two to four times more fiber than an acre of timber. Hemp grows quickly, can be harvested every 90 days and is a great rotational crop, especially for organic farmers."
The therapeutic properties of hemp oil alone should be enough to draw serious attention to the issue of hemp legalization. Dr. Udo Erasmus, in his book Fats that Heal – Fats that Kill, writes:
"Hemp seed oil may be nature's most perfectly balanced oil. It contains an ideal 3:1 ratio of omega-6's to omega-3's for long-term use, and provides the omega-6 derivative gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)."
(On a side note, this author is enjoying a glass of “hemp milk” as he writes this article).
Of course, SB 676 faces an uphill legislative battle. Besides the undeserved social stigma carried by the psychedelically- handicapped crop and the powerful lobby opposing it from various industries including lumber, paper, textile, construction material and oil producers, legalized hemp would stand as an enemy within the gates for an unexpected rival: medicinal marijuana. According to Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of Cal NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), windblown pollen from cannabis plants (this includes hemp) can travel as far as 100 miles. Outdoor sinsemilla crops would be at constant risk of being fertilized – and thus spoiled – by nearby industrial hemp because SB 676 places no restrictions on where hemp can be grown.
There is a further problem, critics say. Hemp would remain a schedule I substance under federal laws.
In actuality, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) explicitly excludes all hemp-derived products (sterilized hempseed, hempseed oil and hempseed cake) from the definition of “marijuana”. This means, technically, that hemp is a federally unregulated crop. The rub is that the DEA has arbitrarily interpreted the CSA to read that “any substance containing any amount of THC a Schedule I controlled substance even if is made from hemp." But hey, these rules haven't exactly thwarted California's thriving marijuana industry.
Senate Bill 676 still has to be approved by the Assembly and signed by Governor Jerry Brown before it can become California law. The full text of the bill can be found here.
*Editor's note: since the time this story was published Leno's bill has been amended into a five county pilot program that limits and clearly outlines where industrial hemp cultivation will occur. This article has been edited to correct a factual error.