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Current bill revises definition of marijuana, making hemp a legitimate crop

By Hempology | September 26, 2007

The Oakland Tribune, CA
24 Sep 2007
Sarah Terry-Cobo


Legislation Would Revise Marijuana’s Definition in California

SACRAMENTO — A revised bill that would allow some state farmers to grow hemp is en route to Gov.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk, and both sides of the argument are optimistic the governor will agree with their position.

The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act was redrafted from last year’s version to address gubernatorial concerns about law enforcement issues.  The act was passed by the legislature on Sept.  12.

Proponents of the bill, such as the Hemp Industries Association and the nonprofit advocacy group Vote Hemp, argue that hemp products — including food, body care products and textiles — are a multimillion-dollar industry that could benefit California’s economy by allowing the raw materials to be grown here instead of importing hemp from overseas. 

Opponents include numerous law enforcement agencies, the state’s police chiefs organization and Drug Watch International, which point to interference with law enforcement capabilities because of the physical similarities of hemp with marijuana.

Schwarzenegger vetoed the original version of the bill last year, saying that in addition to the potential drain on drug-enforcement activities, federal law does not recognize the difference between industrial hemp and illicit marijuana, as delineated in the bill.

The current bill revises the definition of marijuana, making hemp a legitimate crop.  The bill would allow farmers who participate in a pilot program to grow hemp that has less than 0.3 per cent of the psychoactive ingredient, terahydrocannibinol, or THC.  Marijuana usually has a THC content ranging from 3 to 15 percent, according to a fact sheet released by Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Chuck DeVore, R-Orange County, authors of the bill.

John Lovell of the California Narcotics Officers Association points to one of the reasons to oppose the bill: “Marijuana prosecution will be difficult, if not impossible because sophisticated ( drug growers ) will use female hemp plants as a buffer ( in fields of marijuana ), to evade detection,” he said.

Charles Meyer, a 66-year-old third-generation cotton farmer disagrees with that position.  He became involved with Vote Hemp about 10 years ago while researching a sustainable alternative to cotton.  He has testified before the legislature on behalf of the hemp industry.

“A marijuana patch looks like an orchard, it has to be separated out in rows and the male plants are removed,” Meyer said.

“A hemp field looks like a wheat field,” he continued.  The hemp fields can have both male and female plants, because pollinated marijuana plants have reduced THC content and are useless for commercial markets, Meyer said.

If signed by Schwarzenegger, the Hemp Industries Association and Vote Hemp — the two groups that helped advise the Assemblymen who drafted the legislation — will seek to enjoin the Controlled Substances Act from interfering in the pilot program, said Patrick Goggin, California council with HIA and Vote Hemp.

The CSA is the federal law that does not recognize a difference between marijuana and industrial-grade hemp.”If ( the judge ) determines that AB684 has no positive conflict with the CSA, it can proceed and coexist with the DEA and their enforcement,” Goggin said.

The proposed law will begin with a pilot project that allows farmers in four counties — Imperial, King, Yolo and Mendocino — to receive hemp seeds from an established research institution and grow only test crops for five years.

Each crop must be sampled by a laboratory registered with the DEA and each sample must contain less than 0.3 per cent THC to comply with the California law.  However, this testing only opens up logistical problems, argues Lovell.

“( Even if ) you are using the Department of Justice state crime lab for all testing, the problem is the DOJ does not have instruments to do quantitative information on marijuana or hemp,” he said.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive category.  Only a few scientists around the country have permits from the Drug Enforcement Administration that allow them to grow marijuana for scientific research.

A common mistake is supposing that hemp and marijuana are different species.  In fact, the differences between the plants, both Cannabis sativa L., are akin to the relationship among dog breeds.

Hemp and marijuana are as similar as a Chihuahua and a Great Dane, said George Weiblen, associate professor of botany at the University of Minnesota, who is one of the few scientists who has a permit to study marijuana.

“These are different forms of the same species that have been selected for different characteristics,” he said in a telephone interview in the spring from his office in St.  Paul.

“This is really a product of 10,000 years of modification of a species,” Weiblen said.  “Hemp breeders focused on fiber characteristics and low drug content and marijuana breeders focused on high drug content.”

The fastest-growing segment tor hemp is body care products, but paper, fiber and oil are also among the thousands of products sold each year in the U.S.  The Hemp Industries Association says annual sales are nearly $300 million and are growing at an annual rate of about 10 percent.

California farmers are currently shut out of a multimillion dollar-industry because we don’t allow our farmers to grow industrial hemp, and we force California manufacturers to buy hemp seed, oil and fiber from other countries, Leno said in a recent press release.

Our enterprising and innovative farmers should not be hindered by senseless regulation.  It’s my hope that by giving farmers in these counties the opportunity to supply a $270 million industry that’s growing by $26 million each year, that other counties won’t be far behind, Leno said.

Hemp was cultivated in the U.S.  by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and was a viable crop until the 1937 Marijuana Tax Stamp Act outlawed both industrial and psychoactive varieties.

Without a change in policy, President Franklin D.  Roosevelt promoted a Hemp for Victory campaign during World War II, encouraging patriotic farmers to make up for the restricted supply from the Pacific.

While grown in at least 30 countries worldwide, North Dakota is the only state that allows its residents to grow hemp.

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