August 23, 2016

Hemp – we use hemp lotion, eat hemp cereal, wear clothing made out of hemp, and use reusable hemp shopping bags. In fact, the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of hemp products. Yet, we are the only major industrialized country that outlaws hemp production. Confused yet?

The Federal Controlled Substance Act (CSA) considers all cannabis-related products Schedule I controlled substances, which are regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Thus, the CSA makes it illegal to grow hemp without a DEA permit. So then, is there a difference between hemp and marijuana?

Hemp v. Marijuana

The answer is – yes! While hemp and marijuana both are plants in the cannabis species, hemp contains only trace amounts of THC (less than 1%). Marijuana, in contrast, can contain around 20% THC.

Federal Changes in Hemp Legislation

In 2014, in an attempt to end the 70-year federal prohibition of hemp production, Obama signed Section 7606 amending the Federal Farm Bill, which allows universities and state departments to begin research on industrial hemp, to determine whether commercial production would be beneficial for American farmers and businesses. Therefore, hemp cultivation was made legal, but only for the purposes of research. To make things more complicated, this “conditional” hemp cultivation is only allowed in states where hemp farming is legal.

California Industrial Hemp Farming Is Still Unregulated and Unavailable

Despite California’s medical cannabis laws and the Federal Farm Bill, hemp farming in California remains largely unavailable. This is because the California Hemp Act of 2013 fails to establish a mechanism for the issuance of hemp cultivation permits.  Therefore, there are currently no legal means by which a commercial farmer can actually cultivate hemp.  Further, a commercial hemp cultivator in California violates federal law. Since the California Hemp Act requires federal compliance, we are yet again in a legal conundrum.

How Does California Get Federally Compliant?

Like everything else, there is no simple answer. However, urging the California Department of Food and Agriculture to draft rules for hemp research pilot programs at colleges and universities would be a good start. This could take years and might cost about $20 million. Applicants for cultivating hemp in California would have to go through a long, drawn-out process, before getting anywhere close to permitting.

What The AUMA Changes For Industrial Hemp

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act Initiative (AUMA) not only aims to protect, integrate, and expand existing state medical marijuana laws; it also brings industrial hemp into U.S. agriculture. If the AUMA initiative passes, industrial hemp will become legal on January 1, 2017. Even more exciting, licenses for industrial hemp cultivation, production and manufacturing will be issued under Division 10 of the Business and Professions Code, and will be regulated by The Bureau of Marijuana Control.

If hemp is legalized with no “research” limitation in California, more jobs would be created and more revenue would be brought in. In fact, $500 million worth of industrial hemp products were sold in California in 2012 alone using imported hemp from overseas and Canada.

While the process of reworking hemp legislation is slow and arduous, successful reform could be highly beneficial to California and the U.S. as a whole. What a conundrum!

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice.