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But feds still outlaw cultivation of hemp, leaving farmers in legal limbo

By Miriam Raftery

October 1, 2013 (Sacramento) – Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act,Senate Bill 566.  The measure authorizes growing of hemp for industrial purposes—but only varieties that don’t contain substantial levels of THC, the psychoactive chemical in hemp’s close relative, marijuana.  

But before you start planting, be aware that the federal government has not changed its laws..  Libertarian Congressional candidate Michael Benoit, who has long advocated legalizing hemp, called the bill a “good step in the right direction.” But he cautioned, “Will it lead to actual freedom in growing hemp? That depends on the Feds as they continue to outlaw it. Just because they don't prosecute at the moment that is not enough for people to take a risk in growing it.”

The bill reclassifies industrial hemp as a fiber or oil crop. Only strains with 3/10 of one percent THC or less are allowed. 

Hemp was legal in much of our history.  In fact, the Bill of Rights was reportedly written on hemp paper. Puritans grew it in New England and Columbus carried hemp ropes on his ships when he discovered the New World.

During World War II, farmers were encouraged by the U.S. government to grow “hemp for victory” since the crop could be made into rope, cloth, food, and other products at a time when industrial materials were in short supply.

Nine other states and 30 countries allow the farming of industrial hemp, which can be used for food, clothing, paper, fuel and other biodegradable products, although none of those states have implemented hemp farming laws yet.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has reportedly said the federal government won’t interfere with states that permit the possession or regulation of marijuana. But a future administration could opt to prosecute growers. 

The plant requires less water than corn and can be grown without herbicides or pesticides, proponents say. 

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimates the total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. in 2012 to be at least $500 million. The HIA plans a conference November 17-18, 2013 in Washington, DC.