Hemp Versus Pot 

Medical cannabis activists say a bill that would legalize hemp could damage the state's marijuana industry.

Hide your kids, hide your wife — California's chronic growers are on a collision course with legalized hemp. San Francisco Senator Mark Leno's SB 676 seeks to authorize an eight-year, five-county pilot project to grow fields of hemp, marijuana's sober cousin. But fields of industrial hemp can actually ruin crops of the stoney stuff like Blue Dream, Grand Daddy Purple, and Sour Tsunami.

"The passage of Sen. Leno's hemp bill is not good news for California's medical marijuana industry," stated Dale Gieringer, California coordinator for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in an e-mail. "Hemp pollen can contaminate other cannabis plants from as far as 100 miles, ruining sinsemilla by causing seeding. SB 676 authorizes hemp to be grown only in Yolo, San Joaquin, Kern, Kings and Imperial counties. While these are mainly downwind from California's prime marijuana growing regions, a stray east wind could pollute the crop."

Mary Jane growers say they must maintain constant vigilance against all pollen. Even in an all-indoor grow, female plants can suddenly go hermaphroditic, pollinate, and ruin an entire $100,000 crop.

According to celebrity grower Ed Rosenthal — who's said to have sold about a million copies of books on marijuana cultivation — hemp pollen can indeed travel far and wide, and ruin medical marijuana. But it usually travels around two miles, he said in an interview.

Meanwhile, the long-maligned hemp plant could use a legislative breakthrough, activists say.

The tall canes — which can't get you high — have been used since the dawn of time as food, fiber, and fuel. The United States banned hemp in the mid-20th century during a futile crusade against the psychoactive version of cannabis sativa, which Mexican peasants at the time called marijuana.

Today, Americans buy hemp products at US stores, but the raw stuff must be imported from Canada and beyond. Demand for hemp products is up and California farmers could get paid to fix their soil, states the Drug Policy Alliance, in support of the bill online.

"Industrial hemp is an excellent rotational crop because it naturally reduces nematode populations while its dense growth smothers out weeds. Hemp requires less water and agricultural chemicals than other crops and has deep roots that leave the soil in excellent condition for the next crop," the alliance stated.

Leno's bill is supported by the likes of American Hemp Inc., California Certified Organic Farmers, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Imperial County Farm Bureau, and the United Food & Commercial Workers — Western States Conference. "Unique to industrial hemp are the strength of its fibers and the unusually healthy balance of amino acids in the seed oil," the Drug Policy Alliance stated. "The fiber is among the strongest natural fiber in the world and it can be used to replace wood pulp as well as synthetic fibers in numerous applications. The oil replaces artery-clogging trans fats with healthy fats necessary for balanced nutrition."

But in addition to the reservations expressed by the medical pot industry, the California Narcotics Officers Association, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, and the California Police Chiefs Association oppose the pilot project. "Hemp is virtually indistinguishable from marijuana, and thus cultivation will seriously undermine the ability of law enforcement to enforce marijuana laws," said the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

But Legalization Nation personally knows a few cops, and they can proudly distinguish between hemp and the stick icky. Hemp has less than one percent THC, while a big, budded marijuana plant boasts THC levels of up to 24 percent, copious resin, and unmistakable aroma. The notion that California's highly trained and well-paid narcotics officers can't tell the difference between weed and hemp might be a bit insulting to them.

One activist put it this way: "How do you tell if the field on the side of road in the Central Valley is hemp or marijuana? That's easy. If it's ungated and anyone can come in and take it, then it's hemp."

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs also contends that SB 676 contravenes federal law and "passage will create confusion to growers who may not understand they would be subject to federal prosecution even if growing hemp were permitted by state law. Creating physical or legal ambiguity is not good criminal justice policy."

That's true. On a long enough timeline, California might have to clarify that entire regions are designated for either hemp growing or medical cannabis. Presumably, hemp would be grown in the Central Valley, and marijuana up North.

But Rosenthal said — on an even longer timeline — hemp would be grown in places like Ohio.

Farmers can't profit off hemp in California's arid Central Valley, due to its irrigation costs compared to its market value, he said. Conversely, even with full legalization's price drops, highly prized sinsemilla could net a profit along Interstate 5.

SB 676 passed the Senate 22-14 May 31 and last week, the Assembly Public Safety Committee passed it 5-2.

Seeds & Stems

The second annual High Times Medical Cannabis Cup San Francisco fumigated the Concourse Exhibition Center last weekend. Last year's event drew about 4,000, said High Times west coast editor David Bienestock, and this year's event might have easily surpassed that number. The Concourse parking lot hosted a packed t-wo-day "215" area that looked like something of medieval cannabis bazaar. The East Bay's GDP Collective took first place in Sativas with their "Bay '11" strain. First place in Indicas went to Harborside San Jose for "Boggle Gum."

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