On Wednesday, September 25th California Governor Jerry Brown signed The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act (SB 566). Hemp supporters have been formally lobbying for such legislation since 1999. The law classifies hemp as either a fiber or oilseed crop, and must not contain any more than three tenths of one percent THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana). The current market for hemp products in the United States is over $500 million per year and is currently growing steady at 10% annually. Consumer products include body and hair care, food, clothing, and cordage.
The first hemp legislation (HR 32) in California was passed in 1999, but former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to sign it stating that it provided a “false sense of security” as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would most likely destroy the crop and pursue charges under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). The CSA does not make the distinction between hemp and marijuana as being two separate crops. The CSA does allow specific cannabis byproducts to be imported (e.g., raw stalks, sterilized and/or processed hempseed, textiles, etc), but does not allow the plant to be grown as it will contain trace levels of THC — a controlled substance.
The DEA are the authority in producing permits and they have a zero tolerance policy on any amount of THC. Hemp plants contain trace amounts of THC. However, the amount of THC is ridiculously low (less than three tenths of 1%) and is not viable for drug purposes. If this same zero tolerance policy were applied to drinking water in the United States, water would be illegal as it contains several contaminants including arsenic, and mercury. However, in the case of water the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set limits on what is considered safe. The same is true in the case of hemp. Its recognized throughout the world that industrial hemp can contain up to three tenths of 1% of THC and not be a problem. That standard is yet to be implemented at the federal level.
Growing industrial hemp has also been made legal in several other states. However, its not grown due to federal legislation. North Dakota was the first state to pass legislation that allows industrial hemp farming in 1999. California, Colorado, Kentucky, and Vermont have passed similar legislation in 2013. Of all states with legislation allowing the cultivation of industrial hemp, only Hawaii has legally obtained permits from the DEA. This program was funded in-part by a $200,000 grant by Alterna Haircare, and was overseen by David West, Ph.D.
Federal and State Legislation
While many states have passed legislation that allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp, there is a conflict with the CSA. The CSA is federal legislation and it supercedes state law. This means that even though a particular state may allow farming of industrial hemp, it may still be considered illegal through federal law. For this reason, it is essential that federal legislation is put in place. Federal legislation would allow farmers to obtain legal permits to grow and harvest industrial hemp. If such federal legislation is not passed it is possible that the DEA will destroy crops. This very thing happened in 2000 with the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. Growers may also be subject to Civil Asset Forfeiture, and could be forced to have their crops and other assets seized.
Industrial Hemp is Not Marijuana
Legislators need to understand that there is a difference between hemp and marijuana. Growing hemp for industrial purposes is not the same as marijuana. This is well understood outside the United States in nations such as Canada, China, France, Germany, and Hungary where hemp is legally grown. In 2005 Texas Congressman Ron Paul introduced federal legislation that would make the distinction between hemp and marijuana as well as set-up a system based on similar systems already in place in Canada and the European Union. Unfortunately Ron Paul was never able to get the legislation past committee, and thus it was never up for a vote. While Ron Paul retired in 2013, his son Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is favorable to industrial hemp. Senator Rand Paul has teamed up with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon to co-sponsor federal legislation.
More Work Needs to Be Done
More work still needs to be done to ensure that the proper laws are put into place. Industrial hemp farmers need to be secure in knowing that their hard work and investment will not be lost due to forfeiture. Further, farmers must be certain that they protect their farms, homes, and families. Even though they are not involved in any type of marijuana growing, the laws currently in place (specifically federal laws) do not distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana and thus they could easily become victims should the DEA decide to prosecute. At the same time, the United States needs industrial hemp production for a variety of products and foods. Passing federal legislation would allow farmers in states that have already passed laws to legally grow industrial hemp with no fear of negative consequences. With proper federal laws in place, more states would be encouraged to pass similar laws that would make industrial hemp farming legal.