U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ‚ÄĒ the nation‚Äôs second most powerful Republican ‚ÄĒ and California‚Äôs Democratic state legislators completely agree on one thing: Marijuana‚Äôs cousin hemp should be fully legalized.
As the late U.S. House Speaker Tip O‚ÄôNeill famously said: ‚ÄúAll politics is local.‚ÄĚ
In McConnell‚Äôs home state of Kentucky, tobacco farming is dying out. Farmers are desperate for a replacement crop. And hemp is their choice for the future.
In California, farmers also need a new crop that doesn‚Äôt use much water. That‚Äôs hemp.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to be incredibly important for California agriculture,‚ÄĚ says state Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita), who represents the Antelope Valley. ‚ÄúA lot of farmers are going to quit what they‚Äôre doing and grow hemp.‚ÄĚ
But first two bills will need to pass the Legislature and be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It‚Äôs a good bet they will. One bill ‚ÄĒ Wilk‚Äôs ‚ÄĒ deals with cultivation. The other legalizes hemp‚Äôs medicinal products.
Hemp had a ‚Äúgood guy‚ÄĚ image for 8,000 years ‚ÄĒ used starting in ancient Mesopotamia in the making of rope, clothes, paper and in food.
‚ÄúThe sails of the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria were made from hemp, as were the boats‚Äô caulking,‚ÄĚ Wilk says, referring to Columbus‚Äô maiden voyage to America. ‚ÄúThomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and Betsy Ross weaved the first flag out of hemp‚Ä¶.
‚ÄúHemp should be seen as our ‚ÄėBack to the Future.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Problem is, hemp got mixed up in politicians‚Äô minds with its cannabis cousin marijuana. And in 1937, Congress linked the two in law. Both weeds were banned. Never mind that you can get high off pot, but hemp is non-intoxicating. The linkage was nonsensical.
In his so-called war on drugs, President Nixon in 1970 signed illogical legislation classifying marijuana and hemp as Schedule 1 drugs along with heroin, cocaine and the like.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2013 that permitted the farming of industrial hemp ‚ÄĒ but only if the federal government allowed it. It didn‚Äôt. So the measure was moot until December when McConnell inserted into a farm bill a provision legalizing the farming of industrial hemp. President Trump signed it.
‚ÄúAt a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture‚Äôs future,‚ÄĚ McConnell tweeted. ‚ÄúThe Farm Bill will not only legalize domestic hemp, but it will also allow state departments of agriculture to be responsible for its oversight.‚ÄĚ
Wilk‚Äôs bill, SB 153, meshes California law with the federal government‚Äôs and requires the state agriculture department to submit a hemp cultivation plan to the feds.
Wilk says one Antelope Valley farmer has already planted 100 acres of hemp. ‚ÄúNext year, I expect there‚Äôll be 10,000 acres,‚ÄĚ he says.
Because farmers have over-pumped groundwater in the valley, Wilk says, they‚Äôve lost 50% of their irrigation supply. Alfalfa is historically a big crop, but it‚Äôs a huge water gulper, needing seven acre-feet of water per acre. Hemp, however, uses only 2.3 acre-feet per acre.
‚ÄúSo farmers are ready to go with hemp, but California is not yet in compliance with the federal farm act,‚ÄĚ the lawmaker says.
Wilk‚Äôs bill zipped virtually unnoticed through two Senate committees and across the Senate floor without a ‚Äúno‚ÄĚ vote. It‚Äôs now in the Assembly.
The second hemp bill, AB 228, similarly sped through the Assembly under the radar without a ‚Äúno‚ÄĚ vote. It‚Äôs currently in the Senate.
AB 228 is complicated by chemistry. It involves CBD, short for cannabidiol, a molecule derived from cannabis. Its cousin is THC, the ingredient in marijuana that gets you high.
Hemp CBD is a non-intoxicant. But its fans say it can alleviate chronic pain, anxiety, seizures and a lot of other ailments, such as arthritis and insomnia. It can be rubbed on the skin as an ointment or digested in food. Old folks love it, says the bill‚Äôs author, Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters).
‚ÄúI went to a seniors‚Äô retirement complex and was telling them about the legislation and everybody started clapping,‚ÄĚ Aguiar-Curry says. ‚ÄúPeople were using it.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs being sold in health food stores and sports shops under a cloud. The California Department of Public Health has been yanking products off the shelves, but doesn‚Äôt want to talk about it.
This was the response I got from the department after asking why it was treating hemp CBD like some poison:
‚ÄúState law mandates that the CDPH adopt federal laws and regulations pertaining to food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices‚Ä¶. CDPH is required to enforce those laws and regulations. CBD derived from hemp is currently not allowed in any of the items CDPH regulates‚Ä¶including conventional foods, drugs and cosmetics.‚ÄĚ
But psychoactive CBD from marijuana can be legally sold in pot shops. Makes no sense.
Proposition 64, the 2016 marijuana legalization initiative, is largely to blame. It left healthy hemp out of its act.
AB 228 legalizes hemp CBD, allowing it to be sold in retail stores and licensed marijuana dispensaries.
‚ÄúMy phone has been ringing off the hook in my office ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄėWhen‚Äôs it going to be legal?‚Äô‚ÄĚ Aguiar-Curry says.
Newsom hasn‚Äôt taken a public position. But he has privately encouraged the authors to swiftly pass the legislation.
Meanwhile, the governor should calm down his public health department ‚ÄĒ maybe sneak officials some hemp CBD.
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