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New Effort To Allow Hemp Farming In CA


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Two California lawmakers have launched a new campaign to legalize hemp. It's a challenge to federal drug laws from two men on opposite sides of the political spectrum. But they have a common goal -- to help the state's struggling farmers.

Charles Meyer is a third generation California farmer. His land is in the Central Valley town of Stratford, where he grows the highest quality cotton and wheat. He would like to cultivate another crop.

Charles Meyer, California farmer: "I looked for the crop that had versatility. Hemp is one of the most versatile we can grow."

Hemp comes from the same plant as marijuana. Both are cannabis sativa, but hemp has only trace amounts of THC, the stuff that gets you high.

Assemblyman Mark Leno, (D) San Francisco: "A good analogy would be industrial hemp has about as much THC content as the poppy seeds that your bagel has opium."

State Assemblyman Mark Leno wants to let Charles Meyer and other California farmers try their hand at hemp. It's already legal in at least 30 countries, including China, Canada and most of Europe. Right now it's illegal for Americans to grow the crop, but they can import the seeds, oil, and fiber. Which can be turned into food rich in omega 3, clothing, even things as strong as car parts.

Hundreds of hemp products are made in California. At Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps in Escondido near San Diego. Like other manufacturers in the state, they get their hemp from Canada."

David Bronner, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps: "Of course most people hear hemp and there's the giggle factor, so we have to break through that and say no, hemp is renewable, it's a great crop."

Hemp is grown without herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. David Bronner began adding the oil to his soaps in 1999. It makes the lather smoother. They are now the number one brand of natural soaps nationwide.

David Bronner: "We're everywhere now -- just crossing over, as is the whole health food movement, it's becoming main stream."

Bronner spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year importing industrial hemp.

Mark Leno, S.F. Democrat: "What wisdom is there in a public policy that forces manufacturers in the U.S. to send their dollars abroad?"

Mark Leno, a San Francisco liberal Democrat, he's teamed up with Chuck Devore, an Orange County conservative Republican. Devore was once the youngest appointee in the Reagan White House. He and Leno are a political odd couple who agree on one thing.

Assemblyman Chuck Devore, (R) Irvine: "It's absolutely criminal that American farmers, the most productive and efficient farmers on the planet, cannot be allowed to grow a naturally occurring plant, that grows wild in America."

Last year Devore and Leno co-authored a bill to legalize hemp farming. It passed both houses of the legislature, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. The measure will be re-introduced this year. Once again it limits the concentration of THC allowed in the plants.

Mark Leno, S.F. Democrat: "It will be the farmer's responsibility to get it tested, and get a certificate that shows their field is no more than three-tenths of one percent the content."

Much of the opposition comes from the law enforcement community. Javier Pena is special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Javier Pena, Drug Enforcement Administration: "It doesn't matter it could be half of a half of a half percent. If it's THC, it's illegal under federal statutes."

And the California Narcotic Law Officers Association is also opposed. A spokesman showed us pictures of hemp grown for seed and marijuana that look similar.

John Lovell, CA Narcotic Officers Association: "The problem becomes those people who are illicitly growing marijuana and who will use hemp as a blind, if you will. to conceal their marijuana activities."

But hemp proponents say planting the crops together decreases the THC, so an illegal marijuana grower would avoid cross-pollination. That argument doesn't convince Lovell. And he says there are none of the safeguards in the California bill like those in place in other countries.

John Lovell, CA Narcotic Officers Association: "For example in Canada, the law requires anyone who wants to cultivate industrial hemp must receive a license from the government, they have to renew it every year, and get a criminal background check."

The government once wanted the crop. A video from the USDA shows the so-called 'Hemp for Victory' campaign that encouraged American farmers to grow the plant for rope during World War II. Now it's other countries cultivating hemp, and consumers here at home have turned the market into a multi-million dollar a year industry.

David Bronner: "The cross section is not just myself, your average hemp consumer is a suburban mom driving around, and they are just looking for healthy foods and products."

California lawmakers are now challenging federal law, so farmers can cash in.

Leno's bill will be formally introduced on Wednesday. A similar measure on the federal level was introduced last week.

Source: ABC30.com
Author: Carolyn Tyler
Copyright: 2007, ABC7/KGO-TV/DT
Website: ABC30.com: Central California's News Leader
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