Natural Foods Merchandiser

Bill to allow industrial hemp introduced in California

Hemp came one step closer to becoming a legal crop in California last week, as Assemblyman Mark Leno introduced a bill that would license growers to raise industrial hemp, similar to the way hemp is regulated in Canada and the European Union. Though the bill faces opposition from anti-drug activists, its proponents say hemp could bring a much-needed economic boost to California.

"We think it's an economic bonanza that could breathe new life into family farming, bring thousands of new jobs, markets and industries," said Leno. "When the country is dealing with record trade deficits, why can we import all parts of the plant, but not grow it?"

This bill is a logical, welcomed step for companies like Nutiva, which produce hemp products in the United States, but have been forced to import hemp from Canada, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in shipping.

"If we can sell hemp foods legally in California, why can't we contract with farmers to grow it?" said Nutiva Chief Executive Officer John Roulac.

Roulac said the money saved from trucking hemp from Canada could help decrease the price of hemp products in the United States, and also increase the quality and freshness of food products.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, the largest hemp user in the world, according to company Vice President Ralph Bronner, would also benefit if the bill passes. But Bronner said re-introducing hemp cultivation in the United States would also benefit the environment. "It doesn't need pesticide, it doesn't need fertilizer, and it grows like a weed," he said. The problem, said Bronner, is that, despite industrial hemp's eco-friendly characteristics, there is still public confusion about the differences between marijuana and industrial hemp. But Bronner said, "Unless you've been hung on a hemp rope, no one has ever been hurt by industrial hemp."

The legal climate for hemp regulation has been more agreeable since February 2004 when a federal court struck down the Drug Enforcement Administration's ban on hemp foods. But last week's bill could still take years to become law, said Roulac. Hemp industry members and other supporters remain hopeful, though, as the market for hemp in the United States is growing, and California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in a country that grows hemp.

"If we could grow a crop that is sustainable, renewable, eco-friendly, requires less water, and can provide food, clothing, shelter and fuel, we would be so very foolish not to take advantage of it," said Leno.

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