California Legalizes Industrial Hemp Farming

A reaction from the federal government is still pending.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/David Maska

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a landmark bill into law on September 28 to legalize industrial hemp farming in the state—as long as the U.S. Department of Justice gives the go-ahead. The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, or SB 566, was authored by Calif. Senator Mark Leno and allows farmers to cultivate hemp and sell seed, fibers, and oil to businesses and manufacturers, pending federal government approval.

The new industrial hemp legalization comes on the heels of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the federal government will not intervene in states that want to legalize and self-regulate cannabis. Officials and farmers alike are waiting on the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify whether Holder's announcement regarding cannabis extends to the hemp industry in addition to the recreational and medical marijuana industries.

Currently, as in the rest of the country, California companies that use hemp products import them from other nations. Hemp is the only crop that is illegal to cultivate, but legal to import and sell, in the U.S.

An independent hemp industry would open up a world of new economic potentials for the debt-stricken, but agriculturally savvy Golden State.

Eric Steenstra, executive director of the Hemp Industries Association, told the Sacramento Bee:

"SB 566 demonstrates the real momentum behind the national movement to legalize industrial hemp. With Congressional bills to legalize hemp currently in both the House and Senate, California is on the cutting edge, pushing forward with an industrial hemp law that would not only stimulate much needed growth in local business and farming sectors, but ultimately lead the nation toward a federal policy change that would open hemp cultivation to hemp farmers around the country," he said. "This will lower our dependence on Canada and China for hemp imports, and empower our agrarian and manufacturing economies to finally tap into one of the fastest growing natural products in the market."

He continued, "With the signing of this bill, California is poised to grow industrial hemp when the federal government gives states the green light," said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. "In the past year, the conversation to legalize the cultivation of hemp has gained momentum at the federal level, and it is only a matter of time before a farmer's right to grow hemp is restored. Hemp, which is already found in hundreds of consumer products manufactured in our state, is a perfect crop for California. It has great potential to revitalize family farms, create new jobs and stimulate the economy."

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor. 

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