The initiative known as Proposition 64 has not been without serious controversy and concerns among small outdoor farmers, patient advocacy groups and those looking to start their own home grows. The freedom given to local government officials to overturn the new law will undoubtedly carry on some of the gray-area confusion that has plagued the industry since its inception.
But Prop 64 isn’t only about growing and smoking pot. Tucked away in the language of the law is the lesser-known cousin to marijuana that defies the stoner stereotype – industrial hemp. Traditionally being cannabis' better half, hemp lacks enough THC (psychoactive compound in marijuana) to get you high.
It’s also more useful to society as a whole, in the form of a highly renewable resource for food, paper, biofuel, building materials and strong natural fibers. Going from non-existence to a fully-functional industrial program will not be easy, depending on how quickly legislators can get the state’s regulatory system established.
That responsibility falls on the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). The agency is not yet certain when the regulations and licensing information will be released, but many farmers, activists and entrepreneurs are applying pressure to release the rules by summer ‘17.
At this point, we know the CDFA will be calling the shots on who gets to grow and cultivate hemp, as well as testing crops to ensure THC levels are kept below 0.3 percent. This amount comes from a fairly arbitrary legal line in the sand commonly found in countries where hemp is already legal – like Canada, China and almost every European nation.
Currently, the CDFA is awaiting word from the attorney general’s office before moving forward. As it stands, the hemp industry is relatively small – about $600 million nationally, and rising. Consumer products range from clothing to hempcrete to bodycare goods like lotions and soaps.
Even automotive parts companies like Flexform Technologies in Elkhart, Indiana, are interested in using American-grown hemp fiber to strengthen and lighten the weight of car door panels. While states like Colorado and Kentucky have been growing hemp commercially for a few years, California has a few things going for it.
Being the largest agricultural state in the U.S. with year-round sunshine and warm climate makes the state a very interesting prospect in the future of hemp. Right now, industry investors are looking at California’s fertile Imperial Valley, the San Joaquin Valley and the Central Valley. Not to mention, California is also the largest consumer market for hemp products in the U.S.
Legally and agriculturally speaking, hemp can be grown in almost every industrialized nation on planet. Under the 2014 Agricultural Act, hemp can be researched at public universities nationwide, as long as the state hosting the university passes its own legislation to do so.
To succeed, the hemp industry needs more than legalization and regulation – it needs major investments in processing and refinement. In order to compete against subsidized crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, who’ve been government-sponsored for decades, hemp will need some government support early on (access to grants funding, tax breaks, etc.).
The earliest markets for hemp will be those that already fit into existing processing infrastructure, like the cannabinoid compound known as CBD. The marijuana industry is already extracting this compound as well as THC for highly concentrated medicinal products. In December, the Hemp Business Journal predicted the CBD market will grow 700 percent in the coming years, becoming a $2.1 billion industry by 2020. CBD has shown huge promise for its medical potential.
It’s been reported that CBD can help with issues ranging from inflammation and pain therapy to treating certain types of cancer and even neurological issues like epilepsy. Another big challenge for the hemp industry includes developing productive seed stocks using imports from countries like Canada, China and possibly European nations like Italy, France and the Netherlands.
The early game will be figuring out which breeds (or cultivars) do well in California’s varied soil types. So don’t expect an immediate boon for hemp in Prop 64. There won’t be thousands of jobs for some time, more like dozens to a couple hundred over the next few years. But if the mythical Hemp Eden were ever to exist, it's hard to imagine it would be anywhere besides the fertile, sun-soaked fields of the Golden State.