November 1, 2010 – David Bronner’s third-generation family business – Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps – imports 20 tons of hemp oil a year from Canada to make soaps, shampoos and skin lotions near San Diego.
Now Bronner hopes California’s Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana for recreational use can give impetus to legalizing cultivation of hemp – pot’s (non-psychoactive) cannabis cousin.
Proposition 19 proponents say the initiative’s language allowing local governments to permit cannabis cultivation – by definition – includes both marijuana and hemp.
But the measure variously inspires or infuriates hemp advocates, who are waging arguments over whether it will help or hinder efforts to lift a U.S. ban on hemp cultivation.
Some say Proposition 19 could invigorate a national hemp industry that already produces more than $350 million in annual sales of clothing, food, paper, carpet and other items – all from hemp grown in other countries.
Others contend the measure will further link hemp – a cannabis plant that can’t get you high – with marijuana and deal a public relations setback to the hemp movement. While it looks like marijuana, hemp contains only minute traces of pot’s psychoactive elements.
Hemp fibers, foods and oils are imported from more than 30 other countries, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration treats hemp cultivation as an illegal activity akin to narcotics production.
Erwin A. “Bud” Sholts, chairman of the North American Industrial Hemp Council, a Wisconsin group hoping to open up American farmland to hemp cultivation, wants nothing to do with California’s pot initiative.
“I don’t think we’re interested in legalizing the drug at all,” he said.
Sholts, a former economist for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, said his hemp trade organization is working with major U.S. companies he won’t name to “develop a strategy” for legalizing U.S. production.
The last thing his partners need, Sholts said, is California’s Proposition 19. “They don’t want to appear to be pro-marijuana,” he said.
In its only direct reference to hemp, Proposition 19 says the Legislature may “authorize the production of hemp or non-active cannabis.”
That is pure political melody to Bronner, president of another pro-hemp group, the Hemp Industries Association.
“I think the initiative would be very helpful,” said Bronner, who said his business costs would drop by 25 percent if he could cultivate hemp in California.
Several states have passed legislation urging the federal government to legalize hemp and setting guidelines for a potential resurgence of cultivation.
In 2006, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1147 by San Francisco Democrat Mark Leno and Irvine Republican Chuck DeVore to endorse hemp cultivation in California. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Leno, now a state senator, said he will introduce new hemp legislation if Proposition 19 passes.
His earlier bill argued that hemp should be defined differently than marijuana because it is a not a mind-altering substance. While marijuana may contain 5 percent to 20 percent of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), hemp has 0.3 percent or less.
“They are distant biological cousins,” Leno said. “The analogy is that hemp has as much THC as the poppy seeds on your bagel have opium.”
Nationally, growing hemp has essentially been illegal since marijuana was outlawed in 1937 – except for one notable period. In World War II, the U.S. Department of Agriculture produced a film – “Hemp for Victory” – that called on “patriotic farmers” to produce hemp for rope, fabrics and other “needs of our Army and Navy.”
U.S. drug agents have since regarded the plant as an unwanted relative of pot. Authorities contend its similar appearance can shield illegal marijuana cultivation – though pot growers say hemp can cross-pollinate marijuana, killing its potency.
Last year, Republican Rep. Ron Paul and Democratic Rep. Barney Frank introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act in Congress, seeking to give states the right to permit hemp growing.
In a joint letter, Paul and Frank argued that hemp’s inclusion with marijuana in the Federal Controlled Substances Act has prohibited American farmers from “competing in the booming industrial hemp market.”
That market is already booming for John Roulak. His Oxnard-based Nutiva food company – listed in Inc. magazine as one of America’s 5,000 fastest growing businesses – expects to earn $12 million this year on imports of hemp foods from “Hemp Ginger Salad Dressing” to hemp protein shakes and munchable hemp seeds.
Sales of hemp foods – said to be high in fiber, protein and Omega-3 and Omega-6 – took off after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2004 that the Drug Enforcement Administration couldn’t ban foods containing the plant products.
Roulak is torn over whether Proposition 19 and greater marijuana legalization will help with hemp.
“I’ve been in the middle of that debate for too long,” he said. “I’m a voice of stay away from the dope (pot), stay focused on the rope (hemp).”
Roulak said few people in California are willing to invest in growing acres of hemp – whose market value is far closer to corn than marijuana – for fear authorities will “have their fields cut down.”
But he said passage of Proposition 19 would give political cover for the next governor to sign a bill legalizing cultivation.
“We feel optimistic,” he said, “that a bill signed by the governor of California will give us more options legally than we have now.” By Peter Hecht. Source.