Industrial hemp, or Cannabis sativa, the rapidly growing plant with a seemingly infinite variety of uses is against federal law to grow because of its association with its evil twin, marijuana.
Hundreds of hemp products, including energy bars and cold-pressed hemp oil, are made in California, giving the banned plant a capitalist aura. But manufacturers must import the raw material, mostly from Canada, where hemp cultivation was legalized in 1998.
Things could change if a measure passed by legislators in Sacramento and now on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk becomes law. (The bill reached Mr. Schwarzenegger last week; he has 30 days to sign or veto it.)
The new hemp entrepreneurs regard it as a sustainable crop. 'They want to lump together all things cannabis,' said David Bronner, whose family's Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps are made with hemp oil. 'You don't associate a poppy seed bagel with opium.'
The differences between hemp and its mind-altering cousin, however, can be horticulturally challenging to grasp. The main one is that the epidermal glands of marijuana secrete a resin of euphoria-inducing delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or T.H.C., a substance all but lacking in industrial hemp.
To its supporters, industrial hemp is utopia in a crop. Prized not only for its healthful seeds and oils, rich in omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, but also its fast, bamboo-like growth that shades out weeds, without pesticides.
'Simply put, you create a jungle in one year,' said John LaBoyteaux, who testified in Sacramento on behalf of the California Certified Organic Farmers association. 'There's a growing market out there, and we can't tap it.'
The bill before Governor Schwarzenegger is the latest installment in a hemp debate that reached its height in 2004, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that federal anti drug laws did not apply to the manufacturing or consumption of industrial hemp. The court ruled that decades earlier, Congress had exempted from marijuana-control laws the stalks, fibers, oils and seeds of industrial hemp, and that the government had no right to ban hemp products. That opened the floodgates for Patagonia hemp jeans and the Merry Hempsters Lip Balm.
In North Dakota, the state agricultural commissioner, Roger Johnson, has proposed allowing hemp farming, and has been working with federal drug regulators on stringent regulations that would include fingerprinting farmers and requiring G.P.S. coordinates of hemp fields.
To some people intimate with the nuances of marijuana, however, the idea of hiding marijuana in a hemp field, where the plants would cross-pollinate, provokes amusement. 'It would be the end of outdoors marijuana,' said Jack Heber, a marijuana historian and author who runs a group called Help End Marijuana Prohibition, or HEMP. 'If it gets mixed with that crop, it's a disaster.'
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Source: NY Times