Hemp to turn King Cotton?
EUREKA -- A new bill to legalize industrial hemp passed the state Assembly last week, and some believe it could provide the North Coast with significant economic benefit.
Assembly Bill 1147 would make legal the growing of hemp, a material that can be used to make everything from fabric and rope to soap and jewelry. It still has to get by the state Senate and gain the signature of the governor, but even then farmers can't just start growing the marijuana cousin.
Because it contains trace amounts of THC -- the psychoactive chemical in marijuana -- it still falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
But some people here -- conservatives and liberals alike -- think the legalization of the plant could help the region''s economy.
North Coast Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka, co-athored the bill."People should be able to farm it," she said. "It's useful for so many products. It's not a marijuana issue, it's a manufacturing issue."
"It's definitely a good thing," said Arcata Councilman Dave Meserve. "Hemp has so many different uses industrially and to me it's a totally separate issue from marijuana."
Meserve said hemp has almost no psychoactive properties.
"I think this provides a new opportunity for farmers to grow an industrial crop here, since we do know that the related species grows very well in this climate," Meserve said.
He refers to the region's reputation for producing high-quality marijuana.
Republican stalwart Mike Harvey said he too believes that the potential legalization of hemp could be a good thing for Humboldt County.
"I personally don't have a problem with industrial hemp as a commodity on the market," he said. "It's a viable economic option, as long as it doesn't go down that slippery slope to the legalization of marijuana."
In a press release issued this week, the bill's author, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said it would be an economic positive for the state's farmers.
"California farmers are missing out on a multimillion-dollar market that already exists in California," he said. "Hundreds of hemp products are made right here in California, but manufacturers are forced to import hemp seed, oil and fiber from other countries. This measure will put California at the top of a $270 million industry that's growing by $26 million each year."
But some critics complained that allowing hemp to be grown puts the state on a slippery slope.
"You pass industrial hemp today and then something else and then something else," said Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia. "And then at some point you will get legalized marijuana."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.