Scott Wilk | Industrial Hemp Production Takes Us Back to the Future

Sen. Scott Wilk

Our climate is changing. Whether it’s part of a long-term cyclical trend or driven by cars and other pollution matters little, it is happening. Here in the Golden State, the most obvious and dramatic manifestation of climate change is the increase in our prolonged and recurring droughts.

Californians have improvised and adapted to the changing environment by using less water. Communities across the state have willingly met and exceeded conservation goals and mandates. We have stopped growing lush lawns, stopped taking long showers, we have done what we can, wherever we can to conserve water. However, there is one thing we have not done.

We have not changed the way we think about agriculture. We have reduced water allocations to our agricultural regions, but we have not given our farmers the flexibility to grow and produce anything but high water consumption crops like alfalfa, almonds and rice – until now.

With the governor’s signature on my bill, Senate Bill 1409, California law will be updated to allow our state’s farmers to grow and produce non-intoxicating hemp for commercial and industrial uses.

Industrial hemp is grown and processed throughout the world for thousands of consumer and food products. It is not cannabis. It cannot get you high, but it can be used to manufacture such a variety of products that I’ve lost count – batteries, clothing, rope, concrete, biomass energy that replaces fossil fuel use, and pulp that replaces wood products, just to name a few. Hemp was a staple in fabric and paper for centuries. In fact, Betsy Ross used hemp to create one of the first American flags. Technically, that makes hemp as American as apple pie.

SB 1409 brings California’s hemp laws up to date by modernizing the definition of industrial hemp and accurately reflecting the difference between it and cannabis. The federal government also has initiated similar efforts to update industrial hemp laws by removing the product from the federal controlled substances list. The legislation in Congress, if successful, will complement SB 1409. The feds have already allowed individual states to begin their own industrial hemp programs without conflicting with federal law. 

Industrial hemp is also a natural fit for California’s arid climate. In the Antelope Valley, for example, where alfalfa currently is the top agricultural crop, farmers could save 5 acre-feet of water per acre by switching from alfalfa to hemp. That is a huge savings, not only for the farmer who pays nearly astronomical rates for irrigation water but also for an increasingly thirsty state where the need for water conservation is here to stay.

However, conservation of our most precious natural resource is not the only advantage to allowing farmers to switch to hemp. Economically speaking, we could be looking at a sizable expansion of California’s agricultural and manufacturing influence.

California’s agriculture industry is our nation’s largest, bringing in over $50 million and 400,000 jobs each year. However, because of drought, our farmers have been under intense pressure to limit their use of water. SB 1409 represents a tremendous opportunity to expand our rich agricultural heritage without depleting our water supplies. In addition, it opens up the opportunity for new manufacturing interests that could affect every region of the state.

California already is the largest commercial consumer of industrial hemp. Opening our fields and our manufacturing interests to industrial hemp means that as new uses for hemp are discovered more money will be kept here, as opposed to buying hemp products from other states and importing them into California.

Hemp represents the kind of forward thinking that California has prided itself on for decades. It will give us access to the many fine products made with industrial hemp, as well as save immeasurable amounts of water and grow our economy.

Scott Wilk represents the 21st Senate District which encompasses the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys.

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