California farmers could legally grow industrial hemp under a bill approved by the state Senate that distinguishes it from a widely grown distant cousin: marijuana.
Hemp "bears no more resemblance to marijuana than a poodle bears to a wolf," said Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican. "You would die from smoke inhalation before you would get high."
He said industrial hemp was improperly lumped into the ban on marijuana in 1937 after it had been grown commercially for decades by American farmers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
The legislation, which passed 26-13 and now goes back to the Assembly, would require that the hemp crop be tested before harvesting to make sure it has only a trace amount of tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC, the drug in marijuana.
No matter the concentration of THC, hemp currently can't be legally grown in the United States without a difficult-to-get permit from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The bill attempts to avoid federal restrictions by requiring farmers to sell the hemp only to California processors to avoid any interstate commerce that could bring federal intervention.
The crop can be used in a variety of products, including clothing, cosmetics, food, paper, rope, jewelry, luggage, sports equipment and toys. As food, supporters say it is high in essential fatty acids, protein, B vitamins and fiber.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy has opposed legalizing hemp cultivation, saying hemp crops could be used to hide marijuana cultivation by mixing the two plants in the field.
The Senate debate produced a bumper crop of California stereotype jokes, several aimed at McClintock, an outspoken conservative who carried the bill in the Senate for it author, liberal Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco.
"There must be some mistake," Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, a Democrat, told McClintock, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. "You'll get a parade in San Francisco."