California Committee Passes Bill to Help Expand Hemp Market, Further Nullify Federal Prohibition in Practice

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (April 30, 2018) –  Last Tuesday, a second California Senate committee unanimously passed a bill that would loosen some regulations on hemp seed and cultivation. Passage of this bill would pave the way for faster development of the state’s hemp market, and further nullify federal prohibition in practice and effect.

Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita), along with a bipartisan coalition of three cosponsors, introduced Senate Bill 1409 (SB1409) on Feb. 16. The legislation would increase the availability of industrial hemp seed in California by repealing a requirement that seed cultivars must be certified on or before January 1, 2013, in order to be included on the state’s approved seed list. In effect, this will expand the types of hemp seed available to growers.

Additionally, the proposed law would repeal a requirement that industrial hemp must be grown as a fiber or oilseed crop, or both, and would also delete the requirement that an application for registration must include information about whether a seed cultivar is being grown for its grain or fiber, or as a dual purpose crop. In other words, farmers would be able to grow hemp for any purpose.

The legislation would also delete current prohibitions on the ornamental cultivation of industrial hemp plants, pruning and tending of individual industrial hemp plants, and culling of industrial hemp.

Together, these provisions would simplify the law and make it easier for growers to get into hemp and ultimately expand the state’s market.

The Senate Public Safety Committee passed SB1409 by a 7-0 vote. The Senate Agriculture Committee previously approved the measure by a 4-0 vote.

In particular, seed certification is vital to growing a vibrant hemp industry. A shortage of usable certified seed throws up one of the biggest barriers to hemp research and farming. Few domestic seed sources exist, and the federal government strictly regulates importation and transportation of hemp seeds. By making more types of seed available in the state, SB1409 would open the door to vastly expand the hemp market in California.

FEDERAL FARM BILL

In 2014, Congress cracked the door open for hemp in the U.S. with an amendment to the 2014 Farm Bill. The law allows hemp cultivation for research purposes, but prohibits “commercial” production.

The “hemp amendment” in the 2014 farm bill  —

…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Drug Enforcement Agency released a “statement of principles” to guide interpretation of the hemp section in the Farm Bill. It states, “The growth and cultivation of industrial hemp may only take place in accordance with an agricultural pilot program to study the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp established by a State department of agriculture or State agency responsible for agriculture in a State where the production of industrial hemp is otherwise legal under State law.”

In short, the current federal law authorizes farming of hemp – by research institutions, or within state pilot programs – for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited.

The definition of “commercial” and the extent to which sales and marketing are allowed under the rubric of “research” remains murky. This has created significant confusion.

The statement of principles also asserted that industrial hemp programs are limited to fiber and seed. It didn’t mention the CBD oil or other edible hemp products. The DEA has apparently interpreted that to mean they remain illegal. The agency has flat-out said CBD cannot be sold under any circumstances. An Indiana TV station interviewed DEA spokesman Rusty Payne who said, “It’s not legal. It’s just not.”

Under California law, farmers can ignore federal prohibition and grow hemp commercially anyway. While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission the law clears away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the state’s borders.

Several other states with federally-compliant hemp programs, such as Kentucky, North Dakota, Minnesota and New York, have grown significant acreage under federally-approved research programs. This takes the first step, but with federal shackles in place, these states are not legally allowed to develop any kind of commercial market. Ironically, many of these “federally compliant” programs are not actually federally compliant.

OTHER STATES

Other states, including Colorado, Oregon, Maine and Vermont have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.

Colorado was the first state with widespread commercial hemp production. Farmers began growing hemp in southeast Colorado back in 2013 and the industry is beginning to mature. The amount of acreage used to grow industrial hemp in the state doubled in 2016 to nearly 5,000 acres, and nearly doubled again in 2017.

The Oregon legislature initially legalized industrial hemp production in 2009. While it was technically legal to grow hemp in the state, farmers didn’t take advantage of the opportunity for nearly five years. When the Oregon Department of Agriculture finally put a licensing and regulatory program in place early in 2014, farmers began growing hemp. The initial regulatory structure placed significant limits on hemp farming and effectively locked small growers out of the market. In 2016, Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 4060 into law. It relaxed state laws regulating hemp already on the books and made the crop more like other agricultural products. Within months, the Oregon Department of Agriculture had already promulgated new rules under the reformed law. According to Oregon’s Cannabis Connection, the rules set the stage to creates a “massive” medical hemp market. The state produced 3,469 acres of hemp in 2017.

Both Colorado and Oregon demonstrate how loosening rules at the state level encourage the market and allow hemp a legitimate commercial hemp industry to develop.

HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP

According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.

Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.

During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!

WHAT’S NEXT

SB1409 now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving to the Senate floor for a vote.

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