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Industrial hemp is now legal in California

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 6.22.59 PMBy Reed Nelson

After being stuck in legislative limbo for 14 years, industrial hemp is now a 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.”

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