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California Hemp Gets Rolling

The 2014 federal farm bill coupled with state legislation passed last year means that industrial hemp might be growing in the Golden State soon. But it won't be completely legal yet.

By David Downs - East Bay Express - July 2, 2014

Green, twenty-foot-tall fields of research hemp might be waving in the Davis breeze by the next year in a startling breakthrough for California hemp advocates who have been working for decades to grow the plant.
The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 combined with the 2014 federal farm bill has unlocked the possibility of legally growing the ancient food, fuel, and fiber crop. "It's remarkable. I'm quite thrilled," said longtime San Francisco hemp lawyer Patrick Goggin. "We had no idea it would come this fast, to be honest."

Championed by state Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, the California Hemp Act of 2013 authorized hemp farming in California, but only if the federal government allowed it. When the bill passed last year, it seemed likely that hell would freeze over before the feds would ever legalize hemp farming.
The federal government banned hemp along with its cousin marijuana in the Thirties, even though the plants differ in a number of key ways. Hemp, for example, has less than 1 percent THC, the psychoactive molecule in cannabis. Modern marijuana, by contrast, can contain 15 to 22 percent THC. But law enforcement officials have nonetheless fought to keep hemp illegal, arguing that cops can't tell the difference between hemp and pot.

But then on February 7, hell froze over. A far-left-far-right contingent in Congress added an amendment to the massive US farm bill exempting research hemp from the federal Drug War if states also allowed hemp. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a centrist and a longtime opponent of marijuana, opposed the amendment. But "she lost big time," Goggin noted.

Far-right Republican Senators like Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul voted for the measure. "Hemp has strange bedfellows," said Goggin. "I call it a wraparound coalition - you have a far-left and far-right and their interests do coincide on some issues and hemp is one of them. It's very symbolic of these types of coalitions."

When President Barack Obama signed the farm bill - known as the Agricultural Act of 2014 - on February 7, it activated existing-but-dormant laws that allowed for the growing of hemp in about a dozen states. (Washington and Colorado straight-up legalized hemp in defiance of federal law when they passed adult-use marijuana legalization in 2012.)

Then on June 6, California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a legal opinion on what the federal farm bill meant for Leno's California Industrial Hemp Act. "[W]e conclude that federal law authorizes, and the Hemp Act permits, institutions of higher education and the CDFA [California Department of Food and Agriculture] to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for purposes of agricultural or academic research," the opinion stated.

Goggin said the law requires CDFA to draft rules for research hemp pilot programs at colleges and universities. A hemp board is to be impaneled. County agricultural commissioners also will have to agree to participate. It could take "six months or eighteen months" to get hemp rules done at the CDFA, according to Goggin. "More than likely eighteen months."

"They are eager to move forward on this, but it is a matter of, 'Okay, where are we going to get the funding for it?'" Goggin continued. "We're dealing with a state the size of a big country relative to the rest of the world."
In an interview, Leno said California needs to snap out of it, straight-up legalize commercial hemp, let farmers grow it, and create jobs and revenue now. A CDFA research program could cost the state $20 million. The veteran legislator is irritated that legalizing hemp is still an issue.

Thirty nations grow hemp and it's found in thousands of consumer products - from Converse sneakers to BMW interior panels. "It's apparently only illegal when it's growing in the ground," Leno said. "Every one of our Western trading partners, plus China, grows it today. What do we need to spend millions of research dollars to find out?

"It still grows wild in California: It's known as 'ditch weed,'" he continued. "This is irrational and that's been my point for ten years."

Leno said the state should ask US Attorney General Eric Holder to confirm that the Justice Department's hands-off approach to legal marijuana also applies to non-psychoactive hemp. But even if Holder did so, California farmers wouldn't be able to get a hemp-growing permit. The CDFA hasn't created one yet.
Leno said additional hemp legalization measures won't be passed this year in the state legislature. As a result, California voters are going to have to step up and legalize hemp as a part of adult-use marijuana legalization in the 2016 election.

As for Feinstein's claims that police can't distinguish between hemp and a drug crop of marijuana, "I don't know that [Feinstein] has ever seen a hemp field," Leno said. "Hemp grows to over twenty feet in height. Marijuana doesn't grow much taller than twelve feet. ... Hemp is planted in rows six inches apart like bamboo. ... They look like bamboo fields. It's grown so densely. Marijuana is grown in rows four feet apart. ... How could they not tell the difference? ... It's a false argument, and it always was.

"Hemp never was and never will be a drug, so it's unfortunate that in the last sixty years it has been confused with one," he continued. "It was never confused before, and it shouldn't continue to be confused. ... It's only our country that is confused. There are no European countries that are confused. Canada is not confused. Mexico is not confused. China is not confused.

"Why can California farmers - especially in a time of drought, when they are desperate for a good, safe, drought-resistant cash-crop - be denied the benefit of a national legal hemp trade? We should be growing it."


Industrial hemp legalized in California

By Reed Nelson - San Francisco Bay Guardian - 9-27-13

After being stuck in legislative limbo for 14 years, industrial hemp will soon be a legally sanctioned agricultural crop in the state of California.

The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act (SB 566) was signed into law on Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown, after years of deliberation dating back to 1999, a process that included multiple gubernatorial vetoes. The freshly signed law will allow approved California residents to grow hemp for industrial purposes by reclassifying the once-felonious plant as a "fiber or oilseed crop."

SB 566, a bill championed since 2005 by Sen. Mark Leno (D), defines industrial hemp as the "nonpsychoactive types of the plant Cannabis saliva L. and the seed produced therefrom, having no more than 3/10 of 1 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) contained in the dried flowering tops."

In simpler terms: It doesn't protect marijuana, but rather marijuana's less mind-bending cousin, which is far more useful as a raw industrial material.

"We are very pleased to have the signature," Sen. Leno told the Guardian. "It's been a 10-year effort to get here. It's a job still, but [the passing of SB 566] will help sustain family farms in California for the future and likely create more job opportunities. Hemp is a $500 million a year industry in California, and it's growing at 10 percent annually."

California now follows in the footsteps of nine other states and 30 other countries that have reclassified the innocuous plant as a crop with agricultural and commercial value. And it is quite valuable.

"This is a miracle plant that has served the planet earth well for, literally, millennia, and that we currently legally manufacture and sell thousands of hemp products including food, clothing, shelter, paper, fuel, all biodegradable products," said Leno. "It's renewable every 90 days, grows without herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, and needs less water than corn. It is the definition of sustainability."

But the reputation of hemp hasn't always had champions like Sen. Leno. Since the initial proposal of HR 32 back in 1999, the bill has been vetoed four times by three different governors. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cited a "false sense of security" he feared would be cultivated amongst the growers of the crop, due to its illegality at a federal level.

Gov. Brown had previously shot down the proposed legislation in 2011, citing a gap in state and federal law as the reason. However, he did remark in his veto message at the time that "it is absurd that hemp is being imported into the state, but our farmers cannot grow it."

And it would seem that Brown's recognition of hemp's merits finally outweighed his concern over the potential for California growers to face federal prosecution, which is a major relief for the architects of SB 566. Now Californians can stop relying on imported hemp from Mexico and Canada (among other places) and start legally manufacturing their own.

"We currently manufacture literally thousands of [hemp] products - legally - and sell them," said Leno. "This is why this issue has been so nonsensical."

The "nonsensical" issue has had deep roots, given hemp's historically ambiguous federal standing. As Brown's 2011 veto message noted, "federal law clearly establishes that all cannabis plants, including industrial hemp, are marijuana, which is a federally regulated controlled substance."

But that isn't a universally held assertion. Back in 1970, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 "explicitly excludes nonpsychoactive hemp from the definition of marijuana," a decision that the federal government never appealed. It's a decision that Sen. Leno agrees with.

"We've always believed that there is no federal preemption, because we believe that that court case ruled that Congress had knowingly exempted industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 -because it's not a drug," said Leno.

Now the state of California can do what more than 30 countries (including Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany and China) and nine states are already doing: Cultivating and processing a plant that many have touted as the "miracle plant."

Now that SB 566 has passed, however, the looming question still remains as to how the federal government will respond. But Leno is confident that it will respect the will of California lawmakers.

"I have great confidence in a recent statement by Attorney General Eric Holder," said Leno. "He's said that if a state puts into place a legal allowance and regulatory scheme, that the federal government would not interfere with marijuana. Now, we need clarification between hemp and marijuana, but there's no sensical way that that could be interpreted that hemp is excluded, given that hemp's not a drug."

Either way, hemp is on the horizon here in California.



Industrial hemp is a crop that is grown and processed throughout the world for paper, clothing, canvas, rope, food products and many other commercial uses. It has no psychoactive properties in any part of the plant, is cultivated as an agricultural field crop, and grows as a stalk to a height of 12 to 16 feet.

Although both are the same species, cannabis sativa, industrial hemp and marijuana are grown differently and have a different appearance. Marijuana is a tropical variety of cannabis that grows to a height of 6 feet and is carefully tended as a horticultural plant. It has been cultivated to grow as a bush with many branches and leaves to maximize the number of flowers where THC potency is the strongest.

Hemp has an appearance similar to bamboo and has few branches and leaves. Unlike marijuana, hemp leaves tend to cluster at the crown of the plant. The most important distinction is that hemp has less than three tenths of one percent THC while marijuana contains five to 25 percent THC.

Industrial hemp stalks grow similar to bamboo.


Hemp is used by the automobile industry as reinforcement fiber in "biocomposites" - press-molded or injection molded parts used in doors panels, boot liners etc., where they are replacing fiberglass composites or more expensive plastics.

Hemp is used in foods such as bread, energy bars, waffles, granola, coffee, beer, veggie burgers, pretzels, salad dressings, and many food products. Hemp seed oil is an excellent replacement for unhealthy fats in foods due to its excellent balance of the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). Consuming the right balance of essential fatty acids found in hemp seed oil offers significant health benefits, including an improved HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio, reducing the symptoms of dermatitis, of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases, as well as improving and optimizing development in infants.

Hemp is used in body care products such as lotions, lip balms, conditioners, shampoos, and soaps. It also may be used as biofuel in the production of ethanol, a plant based gasoline additive and replacement.

Brochure on the benefits of industrial hemp:


Hemp is already a market commodity. According to a study commissioned by the Hemp Industries Association, the annual United States retail market for hemp products has grown steadily since 1990 to approximately $400 million in 2009, increasing at a rate of about $26 million annually.

The hemp products industry is particularly strong in the Golden State, where 77 percent of U.S. sales of hemp food and personal care products are earned by California companies. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, for instance, is a California business based in Escondido that is the number one producer of natural soap in the world, selling about $20 million worth of soap annually. In the last five years Dr. Bronner's spent $800,000 importing hemp oil from Canada.

More on Dr. Bronner's hemp products:
http://www.drbronner.com *

Dr. Bronners is just one of the many California businesses that could support local farmers in growing hemp with the passage of this bill by purchasing from Californian rather than Canadian farmers.

Consumers are benefiting from healthy industrial hemp products and manufacturers are enjoying a rapidly growing market. The only ones not benefiting from industrial hemp are California farmers.

The Canadian industrial hemp crop is limited by a short growing season, dependency on rainfall, and cooler temperatures. California's warm climate and use of irrigation would enable hemp farmers to achieve significantly higher seed and fiber yields than in Canada.

Good for Agriculture & Good for the Environment

In addition to economic benefits, hemp has strong agricultural benefits as well. It requires little or no pesticides and herbicides and improves soil conditions making it an excellent rotational crop of particular interest to organic farmers.

Hemp's dense growth smothers out competing plants and delivers a field ready for the next rotation that is virtually free of weeds. This is particularly helpful in rotation with weeding-intensive crops like strawberries. The positive role hemp plays in sustainable crop rotations reduces chemical use and saves farmers money.

Industrial hemp has many environmental benefits. It is a source for paper, building insulation, and fiber board. As our demand for wood products grows we could save our trees for higher-end uses such as lumber, and supplement paper and fiber board production with hemp. An acre of hemp produces 2 to 4 times more fiber than an acre of timber and it grows from seeding to maturity in just 90 days. Hemp also can be used as a raw material for ethanol fuel and is particularly promising for emerging cellulostic ethanol technologies due to its rapid growth.


Industrial hemp has a long history of commercial use and cultivation in California and the United States. In colonial Virginia and Connecticut the cultivation of hemp was mandatory for farmers. Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew hemp on their plantations. As recently as World War II the U.S. government encouraged farmers to grow hemp in the "Hemp for Victory" campaign to supply cordage for the war effort.

World War II era U.S. government poster

From around 1900 to 1920 hemp was grown as a commercial crop in California. Some areas known for hemp cultivation were Gridley in Butte County, Courtland in the lower Sacramento Valley, Rio Vista in Solano County, and Lerdo near Bakersfield.

The 1903 USDA Yearbook shows industrial hemp grown
in Gridley, CA that was well over 10 feet tall.


The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was passed in the U.S. Congress with promises in the floor debates that it would not prohibit the production of non-psychoactive industrial hemp. The crop continued to be grown in the United States until the mid-1950s when soft markets and increasing government harassment made other crops more desirable.

Today, the 1970 Controlled Substances Act is the federal statute that regulates industrial hemp. The 1937 definition for marijuana was lifted from the existing statute and adopted with no debate on the language excluding sterilized hemp seed, hemp fiber, and hemp seed oil from regulation. Therefore, the U.S. Congress never voted to make the cultivation of industrial hemp illegal. In 1970 there were imported hemp products in the marketplace such as canvas and rope, but no hemp farmers left to ensure that cultivation was appropriately addressed.

Processed hemp is now sold in the United States for paper, cloth, canvas, rope, food products, soaps, body care products, biocomposite materials and many industrial commercial uses. However, all hemp used in the United States is imported.


The federal DEA tried to classified industrial hemp as a controlled substance by regulation. However, in 2004 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the DEA did not have the authority to regulate hemp under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act since hemp seed, fiber, and oil are excluded. The DEA dropped its appeal of that decision and the 9th Circuit Court ruling now stands as U.S. law on the issue.

Web PDF Link: United States Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit Ruling in Hemp Industries v DEA


Under SB 767 only the excluded, non-federally-regulated parts of the plant would enter commerce of any kind, whether in-state or interstate, except for an in-state market for viable hemp planting seed for which there is no national market. For that reason, the U.S. Supreme Court's medical marijuana decision in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) does not in any way suggest a pre-emption problem with SB 676.

In Raich the Court reasoned that the interstate market for marijuana would exert a "pull" on in-state medical marijuana because the commodities were fungible. However, this reasoning cannot be applied to the cultivation of industrial hemp authorized by SB 676 because:

1. Only non-regulated parts of the plant would enter interstate commerce, and
2. No part of the non-psychoactive industrial hemp plant, including the flowers and seeds, is fungible in the interstate market for psychoactive marijuana.

Because industrial hemp can't get you high, there is no interstate "pull" that could divert non-psychoactive industrial hemp plants, flowers, or seeds as they are useless in the illegal interstate market for marijuana.


Hemp cannot be used to disguise marijuana for many reasons. Hemp grows densely and the shade works effectively as a smother crop not only for weeds, but marijuana, which needs lots of sunlight. Marijuana plants grow, flower and mature later than hemp and would be overtaken and shaded out if planted in a field of hemp.

Cross pollination by industrial hemp pollen would result in seed production in the marijuana flowers. This makes them not sellable as an illegal drug. The flowering tops are the harvested part of the marijuana plant and flowering is reduced once the plant has been pollinated.

To avoid seeding, reduced flowering, and less THC production, illegal marijuana growers destroy male plants before they can pollinate the females and render their product not smokable. Blowing hemp pollen would result in particularly heavy seed production in a marijuana grove.

Finally, if marijuana plants have been cross-pollinated by hemp, the resulting seeds would produce, in the next generation, plants of uncertain and generally lower THC drug potency.

Thus, there is no logical reason for growing hemp alongside marijuana. The pollination of marijuana plants by male hemp plants reduces the amount of flowers, the amount of THC containing resin produced per flower, and results in the production of undesirable seeds - all of which impairs the commercial value of a marijuana plant.

The last thing a clandestine marijuana grower wants is a field of industrial hemp shading out and smothering marijuana plants, blowing pollen that will produce seeds in marijuana flowers, and reducing the potency of their next crop.


Industrial Hemp is currently legal to grow in more than 30 countries including Canada, Germany, England, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, China, Hungary and Romania.

California is one of fifteen states (the others are Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia) that have passed pro-hemp laws or resolutions. An additional thirteen states have considered pro-hemp legislation or resolutions.

The Farm Bureaus in Ohio and Pennsylvania have advocated for a return to industrial hemp farming. However, North Dakota is in the lead among U.S. states with a law and regulations in place that puts them on track to become the first U.S. state to grow industrial hemp.


Among the more than 300 member companies of the Hemp Industries Association, 46 of them are based right here in California. These companies are importing or buying a Canadian product that can be easily grown in California. Nutiva, an organic food company based in Sebastopol, CA believes they can save more than $100,000 per year in transportation costs if they could buy hemp seeds from California farmers.

More on The Hemp Industries Association:

More on Nutiva's hemp products:

With so many hemp product manufacturers based in California and with a large number of acres planted in crops that could benefit in rotation with hemp, this region is particularly well-suited industrial hemp cultivation. The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act makes sense for California farmers, businesses, and consumers.

* Links to commercial websites are intended for demonstration purposes and do not constitute an official endorsement of companies or their products.

Senate Agriculture Committee

Hemp Industries Association (co-sponsor)
Vote Hemp (co-sponsor)
California Certified Organic Farmers
California State Grange

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