Weed Watch

Industrial Hemp in California; Medi-pot in New Mexico

The California State Assembly last week passed a bill that would legalize industrial hemp farming in the state. The measure (Assembly Bill 1147), authored by San Francisco Democrat Mark Leno, would allow the state's farmers to grow and sell hemp seeds, oil, and fiber for use in consumer products – everything from food and personal care products to car products and textiles – and to sell or trade seeds with other farmers within the state. The annual retail market for hemp products is estimated at nearly $300 million, but because the government – read, the Drug Enforcement Administration – has, for all practical purposes, banned hemp farming (farmers may try to hide marijuana plants within their crop, narcos warn), all products produced and sold in the U.S. are made with hemp plants grown in other countries, including Canada and China. "It is time to put California farmers first and not leave them out of the economic benefits of this environmentally sound crop," Leno said.

If the measure gets a nod from the state Senate and from Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who has reportedly not taken a position on the issue), California would become the 15th state to legalize hemp cultivation. (Still, the DEA has continued to enforce a ban on hemp farming, claiming that because the Controlled Substances Act doesn't differentiate between hemp and its psychoactive brother marijuana, hemp farming is illegal.) "Hemp is a potential bonanza for California," Leno said. "The opportunity to create thousands of new jobs, new industries, and new markets while protecting our environment should not be missed."

Also last week, New Mexico legislators passed out of committee a bill that would legalize medi-pot for seriously ill patients. The bill would require patients to register with the state and would limit the amount of marijuana that patients may possess and/or grow. Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson has given a nod of approval to the measure, in part by giving legislators the ability to consider the bill during the current 30-day special session. Richardson has said that any medi-pot program would need strict regulation, but that "for those who are suffering … I support it."

Nonetheless, David W. Murray, special assistant to drug czar John Walters, head of the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy, traveled to Santa Fe last week to testify against the measure before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Medi-pot has no medical value, Murray told lawmakers, and marijuana is an "addictive substance" that can cause "serious mental illness." And, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican, Murray told the committee that proponents of medi-pot are no better than "traveling charlatans" selling phony "tinctures, magical herbs, and remedies." Murray's heavy-handed propaganda didn't sit well with lawmakers, several of whom lashed back at the assistant czar: "I don't know how you do [things] back East, but this is the people's house," Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez told Murray. "I don't think you should go to a state and say such things about their people." The full Senate will consider the bill, which has bipartisan support, this week; to become law, it must be on Richardson's desk by the time the special legislative session ends Feb. 16.

*Oops! The following correction ran in the February 24, 2006 issue: In the Feb. 3 "Weed Watch," the Chronicle incorrectly reported that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is a Republican. He is, in fact, a Democrat. We regret the error.

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Weed Watch, medi-pot, medical marijuana, Drug Law Reform Project, Mark Leno, industrial hemp, David Murray

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