California: Governor Brown Signs Bill Legalizing Hemp Farming Under State Law
By Steve Elliott
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed SB 566, the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, legalizing hemp farming under state law.
Introduced by state Senator Mark Leno earlier this year, SB 566 ensures that California is prepared to begin registering hemp farmers once the federal government gives states the green light, according to hemp advocacy organization Vote Hemp and the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), an industry trade group.
The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act will establish a framework for farming the oilseed and fiber varieties of the plant, which are used in a myriad of everyday consumer products, including food, body care, clothing, paper, auto parts, composites, building materials, and biofuels.
Enforcement and oversight of hemp production would be handled in cooperation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and country agricultural commissioners, as is done with other farm crops.
"SB 566 demonstrates the real momentum behind the national movement to legalize industrial hemp," said Eric Steenstra, executive director of the Hemp Industries Association. "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.
"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," Streenstra said.
"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," Sen. Leno said. "It has great potential to revitalize family farms, create new jobs and stimulate the economy."
Strong support for the bill has come from The California Sheriffs Association, individual county sheriffs, family and organic farmers, environmental organizations, labor unions, and businesses statewide. According to Vote Hemp and the HIA, hemp farming registrations could be accepted as soon as 2014 based on the recent memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole of the Department of Justice.
"Before farmers can begin planting hemp under SB 566, the state will need to seek clarification from federal officials that state regulations for hemp farming meet the requirements outlined in the recent memo issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole," said Vote Hemp Director Patrick Goggin.
More than 30 industrialized nations grow industrial hemp and export it to the United States. Hemp is the only crop that is illegal to grow at the federal level, yet is legal for Americans to import.
Among the numerous California-based companies who have supported the bill are Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, makers of North America's top-selling natural soap, and Nutiva, a rising star among innovative health food companies. Both of these businesses currently must import hemp from other countries. The passage of SB 566 sends a strong message to Washington that the time has come to change federal policy regarding industrial hemp.
"Hemp grown right here in California would stimulate massive growth in the food, body care, textiles, building and other crucial sectors that suffer from having to import less efficient materials in lieu of this lucrative industrial crop," said David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. "The nationwide movement to legalize industrial hemp and farm it right here in the US to benefit American business is growing, and SB 566 opens a door to incredible opportunity for farmers who seek sustainable agriculture, ecologically responsible businesses and products.
"Ultimately, this bill will help end the prohibition on what is one of the most versatile and environmentally revolutionary industrial crops on the planet," Bronner said.
"Nutiva looks forward to buying hemp from American farmers," said John Roulac, president of Nutiva. "This will add American jobs and reduce our fuel consumption."
California businesses currently spend millions of dollars each year importing hemp primarily from Canada, China, and Europe. Demand for hemp products has been growing rapidly in recent years, and it is estimated that the U.S. hemp market now exceeds $500 million in annual retail sales.
From natural soaps to healthy foods, there are a large variety of "Made in California" hemp products whose manufacturers and buyers will greatly benefit from an in-state source of hemp seed, fiber, and oil, according to the HIA.
The environmental and agricultural benefits are not limited to the versatility of uses. Industrial hemp is an excellent rotation crop because its dense growth smothers weeds without herbicides and helps to break the disease cycle.
Hemp requires less water and agricultural inputs than other crops, has deep tap roots that leave the soil in excellent condition for the next crop, and is proven to increase yields. These benefits save farmers money and reduce the amount of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers that run into our waterways.