Passage of Legalization Puts California Out Front for Hemp

US hemp based sales

By William Sumner, Hemp Business Journal Contributor

A victory for the legal hemp industry was struck late last month as California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 1409, to legalize hemp farming in the state. Included in the law are a series of provisions to clarify and resolve various conflicts between state laws and federal policy towards hemp and hemp-derived products.

For example, the measure amends the state’s definition of hemp to no longer define it as a fiber and oilseed crop, allowing farmers to grow hemp for extracts and oils as well as fibers and seeds.  Additionally, the measure authorizes the California Department of Food and Agriculture to establish and run an agricultural hemp pilot program in keeping with the Federal Agricultural Act (a.k.a. Farm Bill) of 2014.

The Hemp Business Journal estimates that by 2022 the hemp market will grow to approximately $1.9 billion; approval of the pending Farm Bill would only accelerate such growth. The measure also loosens seed-sourcing requirements for farmers. Under previous state law, hemp seed cultivators were required to have been certified on or prior to January 1, 2013, in order to qualify as an approved cultivator; the new law does away with that provision. Farmers may also cultivate hemp through cloning, previously barred in California.

The measure’s passage was the result of aggressive lobbying on behalf of the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Scott Wilk, and the grassroots hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp.

In a statement, Vote Hemp President Eric Steenstra hailed the measure’s passage. “Agriculture is a hugely important sector of the California economy, and we are thrilled that farmers can now benefit from the economic opportunity of hemp farming,” he said. “We are grateful to the bill’s co-sponsors, Ojai Energetics, Hoban Law Group, and Politico Group for their legal and lobbying support, and to Senator Scott Wilk for authoring this legislation and championing its passage in California.”

Representing the world’s fifth largest economy, California stands poised to become a dominant force in the legal hemp industry; especially pending current versions of Congress’  2018 Farm Bill. Included in that draft is an amendment to fully legalize hemp cultivation at the federal level.

For now, the hemp amendment has broad bipartisan support and is being championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose home state stands to benefit significantly from the provision’s passage. Yet, despite strong support for hemp, other segments of the legislation remain controversial.

One item of contention is a provision to strengthen work requirements for people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Under the House version of the bill, able-bodied adults enrolled in the SNAP program would have to work at least 25 hours a week to receive benefits. The Senate version conversely makes no such changes.

A stalemate between the competing versions could spell trouble for more than just hemp farmers. On September 30, the previous version of the Farm Bill expired, leaving many federal assistance programs for farmers frozen.

It appears unlikely that Congress will take any further action toward resolution of the bill before year’s end Next month’s midterm elections will predictably stall any hopes of progress on the measure, and the odds of a lame duck Congress taking action are slim. Instead, the Hemp Business Journal expects a final vote on the 2018 Farm Bill around February or March 2019. Notwithstanding the issues at the federal level, passage of California SB 1409 marks a positive development for the U.S. hemp industry.

J.J. McCoy, New Frontier Data Senior Managing Editor

William Sumner

William Sumner is a writer for the hemp and cannabis industry. Hailing from Panama City, Florida, William covers various topics such as hemp legislation, investment, and business. William’s writing has appeared in publications such as Green Market Report, Civilized, and MJINews. You can follow William on Twitter: @W_Sumner.