California Legalizes Industrial Hemp; Will Feds Interfere?

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Jay Brockman
On Sept. 27, California Governor Jerry Brown finally signed a bill to legalize industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive close relative of marijuana that can be made into everything from paper and rope to fiberglass substitute, shampoo and toothpaste.

The last time hemp was legally grown in the U.S. was in 1957. For years, hemp products have been sold legally in California and other states, but the raw materials have had to be imported from Asia and Europe. The law signed by Brown on Friday was introduced by longtime medical marijuana backer Mark Leno, (D-San Francisco) and allows the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture to regulate hemp like any other crop.

But will the feds allow California to harvest the country's first legal hemp crop in decades next year?

It's too early to tell, but given the fact that the Obama administration recently stated--via the so-called Cole memorandum--that it will not interfere in states that have well regulated recreational or medical marijuana industries, this could be a crop ready for legal harvest after all. Today, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is reportedly seeking answers from the U.S. Justice Department.

"I hope by next spring, this (planting) could be happening," Leno told the SF Chronicle on Sept. 28. "For [the federal government] to say it's OK for marijuana and not hemp would be ridiculous," Leno agued. "It seems a given that hemp would be included in [Cole's] statement."

It won't be until next fall at the earliest that California voters will likely have a say at the polls whether marijuana should be legal for recreational use. Such a law, to have a chance at changing the ongoing potpocalypse, will necessarily mandate statewide regulations similar to what are being rolled out in Colorado and Washington states.

Until then, industrial hemp could at the very least provide a test-case to show how California's biggest cash crop can finally be grown legally. It'll also presumably provide a big economic boost to the state's agricultural sector. Too bad you can't smoke it...

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