The California General Assembly voted 41-29 March 10 to approve legislation giving the state's farmers the right to grow nonpsychoactive industrial hemp. The bill is expected to be passed by the California Senate and come before the governor for signature before the end of the year, said Adam Eidinger, communications director for the nonprofit industrial-hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp.
Almost identical legislation was introduced last year, but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who claimed the bill would put farmers in jeopardy of federal prosecution, since hemp is classified as a drug under the Controlled Substances Act. But this year the industry wants to make it clear to the governor that farmers would legally challenge the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's authority to interfere with the state's law before farmers would actually begin growing hemp.
Eidinger explained that if the legislation is passed, farmers—and perhaps even the state—will file a lawsuit to protect themselves from DEA prosecution. "The state could say [the DEA] has no authority here because the DEA only regulates marijuana," he said. "The logic is that [industrial hemp] is legal to import, eat and sell. It should be legal to grow."
Though Eidinger said he wouldn't be surprised if farmers decided to test the law enforcement themselves by growing hemp before getting judicial approval, he said, "We would urge farmers not to grow hemp until we get approval from a federal judge saying that the DEA should not interfere."
"It could be a very quick legal decision," Eidinger said. "If it's signed [into law] this year, it's not at all unreasonable that next growing season, we could be growing it."
Only weeks before California's vote, North Dakota's legislature changed its law to remove DEA licensing as a requirement for state licenses for growing industrial hemp. Vote Hemp is supporting a lawsuit, expected to be filed in the next few weeks by North Dakota-licensed hemp farmers, seeking to prevent the DEA from enforcing federal marijuana laws against them.
If the North Dakota or California farmers' lawsuits are successful, each state could implement its own hemp farming laws without the DEA's interference.