California hemp farmers still waiting for launch of multi-billion dollar business - OCRegister

“If they don’t resolve it soon, we’re going to miss another planting season,” he said. It's been two and a half years since Californians voted to legalize both the marijuana and hemp varieties of the cannabis plant. Hemp programs are booming in places as diverse as Nevada and China. Plant material is being converted to energy-efficient construction materials, durable fabrics, nutritional foods and biodegradable plastics.

Just last week, both CVS and Walgreens have announced plans to stock topical CBD products made from hemp in hundreds of their stores nationwide. With its vast farmland, ideal growing climate, large population and established agricultural infrastructure, California's hemp industry alone is projected to be worth several billion dollars. That's why at least 300 farmers have expressed interest in growing hemp here once the state allows it to move forward. “California has fought long and hard to legalize industrial hemp, and we're in last place,” said Boucher, who runs Farmtiva hemp farm.

“We’re all just baffled at how California has really fumbled this and put our farmers way behind the spectrum.The California Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversees hemp farming in California, declined several requests for interviews about the status of the program. Department spokesman Steve Lyle said via email that the state hopes “to have regulations to share next month. Meanwhile, some investors and product manufacturers are at least temporarily leaving California.

If the state doesn't let farmers start registering to legally grow commercial hemp soon, some are ready to take advantage of a loophole that lets them still grow the crop under the auspices of research. Others, industry experts say, may create an entirely new illicit market for hemp. “By not acting,” said John Miller, a Carlsbad-based hemp industry consultant, “the state is inviting criminality.

Change slow in coming

Hemp was a popular agricultural crop from the time the United States was founded until the turn of the 20th century. That’s when belief in the dangers of marijuana began to mount, driven largely by rhetoric from community leaders who used the drug as a way to demonize the new wave of Chinese and Mexican immigrants.In 1937, the U.S. government officially linked hemp with marijuana, making it illegal to farm any variety of cannabis for 80 years. The door for American hemp farmers started to crack open seven years ago.

Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana in 2012 and, at the same time, allow hemp cultivation.   A year later, the first open hemp harvest in nearly eight decades took place in Colorado, and hemp farmers in Kentucky and a few other states soon followed suit. Jerry Brown signed the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act in 2013. The federal Farm Bill in 2014 said states could permit hemp cultivation if it was for research.

Last year, Boucher and at least five other hemp farmers grew crops in conjunction with California research organizations. Since the passage of Proposition 64, in November 2016, the state has formed an Industrial Hemp Advisory Board to recommend specific regulations and fees for the industry. And, in October of 2017, that group submitted to the state its first set of draft rules, according to Lawrence Serbin, who chaired the board and whose Paramount-based company, Hemp Traders, is perhaps the country's largest importer of hemp products. That plan was submitted last May and it's still under review by state regulators.

The Office of Administrative Law has until Wednesday, April 3 to approve the rules and fee structure or recommend further changes.

Hemp not prioritized

The marijuana industry definitely hasn't been welcoming to hemp, Miller said. One reason is because hemp can also produce valuable CBD, but with no special taxes and nowhere close to the same regulations faced by marijuana growers. That's got some marijuana industry players eager to jump ship to hemp once the floodgates open. Another reason marijuana supporters fight hemp is because some varieties of hemp produce pollen that can travel for miles and contaminate marijuana fields by diluting their crop's THC content.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control, which oversees marijuana, hired dozens of people in its first couple of years.But the state only recently dedicated one staff member to the regulation of industrial hemp. Funding is likely an issue, Serbin pointed out, since hemp won't produce tax revenue the way marijuana eventually could.

Other details

That rule has triggered some raids, with authorities pulling CBD products off the shelves in Costa Mesa,Victorville and other places. Assembly Bill 228 would remedy that by making hemp-derived CBD a legal ingredient in California. Meanwhile, Native American tribes in California seem to have a green light to grow industrial hemp without state or local approval. Under the latest Farm Bill, sovereign tribes can oversee their own hemp cultivation programs.

That gives them an advantage in that they can adopt regulations quickly and get to market faster than hemp companies that need to operate within the state’s regulatory framework. The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, in San Diego County, is eyeing hemp farming on some portion of its 15,000 acres, according to Dave Vialpando, who heads up the Santa Ysabel Tribal Cannabis Regulatory Agency. He expects other tribes in need of steady revenue will be lured by the chance to get a piece of the cannabis market without the regulatory headaches that come with marijuana. “It’s going to be a lot of jobs and a lot of revenue for a lot of people,” Webster said.

“We just have to get going.

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