Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has refused to sign AB 1147, “The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act,” which earlier this year passed the Senate (by 26 to 13) and Assembly (44 to 29). The bill would have allowed California farmers to grow hemp -the cannabis plant that has been bred for fiber and/or seeds. “Industrial hemp” contains only trace amounts of THC -.3 percent or less, as defined by AB 1147.
Cannabis is a versatile plant, bred for thousands of years to be useful (which is one definition of “sativa”). Hemp fabric can be like canvas or linen. Hempseed oil is uniquely nutiritious. When hemp fell victim to the marijuana prohibition, canaries all over America stopped singing. Nowadays Americans spend an estimated $270 million annually on products imported or made from hemp grown in Europe, Canada, and China. Seven states have legalized hemp cultivation, but the federal prohibition prevents farmers from growing it.
Schwarzenegger cited federal law as the basis for his veto:
“Under current federal statutes there is no definition of ‘industrial hemp’ nor is there a distinction between cannabis plants based on Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) content as delineated in AB 1147. In fact, under federal law, all cannabis plants, regardless of variety or THC content, are simply considered to be ‘marihuana,’ which is a federally regulated schedule I controlled substance. Any person in the United States that wishes to grow cannabis plants for any purpose, including industrial purposes, must first obtain permission and register with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Failure to do so would be a violation of federal law and could subject an individual to criminal penalties.
“…It would be improper to approve a measure that directly conflicts with current federal statutes and court decisions. This only serves to cause confusion and reduce public confidence in our government system.
“Finally, California law enforcement has expressed concerns that implementation of this measure could place a drain on their resources and cause significant problems with drug enforcement activities. This is troubling given the needs in this state for the eradication and prevention of drug production.”
Schwarzenegger claims to be “for” medical marijuana, but by the logic of his veto message he would have vetoed Prop 215 had it been enacted by the legislature instead of the voters. (Laws created by initiative take effect immediately and don’t require the governor’s signature.) Former Gov. Pete Wilson -who is now a Schwarzenegger advisor, vetoed medical marijuana bills passed by the legislature in 1994 and 1995, citing federal law as his rationale.
Schwarzenegger vetoed the hemp bill in deference to law enforcement, according to Patrick Goggin, an attorney employed by the Hemp Industries Association and a Virginia-based lobbying group called Vote Hemp. “At the 11th hour John Lovell, representing the California Narcotics Officers Association and a number of other police groups, sent out a memo expressing extreme opposition,” says Goggin. “It was clearly meant to influence the governor. The bill was already heading back to the Assembly for concurrence. His main point was that legal hemp would make it impossible for law enforcement to find illicit marijuana -even though the bill gave them the right to test and to confiscate any plants in excess of .3 percent THC.”
Both Goggin and an aide to Assemblyman Mark Leno used the term “political calculus” in describing Schwarzenegger’s decision. “He gave the environmentalists a win on greenhouse emissions,” explains Goggin. “He’s got them; he doesn’t need to woo them by supporting hemp.”
Supporters of the hemp bill took great pains to distinguish themselves from the medical marijuana industry/movement. The Drug Policy Alliance reportedly offered to provide expert testimony on how different hemp is from marijuana, but the hemp-bill strategists nixed the idea. Their ideal witness was a Republican farmer. “The way you have to approach this is by separating the issue from medical cannabis,” says Goggin.
Perhaps “separating the issue” made sense when they were seeking votes from Republican legislators, but once the bill went to the governor for signing -the stage that savvy John Lovell knew was make-or-break- it made no sense at all. Most Californians -including quite a few Republican farmers- know that marijuana is safe and effective medicine and that the federal prohibition is absurd and costly. The Vote Hemp campaign separated the issues, never demanding that Schwarzenegger stand up to the feds re Prohibition. They emphasized the environmental benefits of hemp, economic benefits to California farmers, how easy it would be for law enforcers to tell the difference between good hemp and that bad marijuana Schwarzenegger sensed weakness -political and intellectual- and gave them the big “Nicht.”
Our snappy slogan, “Struggle Against Singleissuism!” continues to be ignored. The trend is in the other direction -activists are dividing up the single issues.
NOTE TO PHIL ANGELIDES
Are you tired of being a 150-pound weakling getting sand kicked in your face by a musclebound bully? Why not throw a bale of hemp at the Governor in your upcoming debate? Here’s how to put it to him: “Governor, your logic in vetoing the hemp bill would have led you to veto our medical marijuana law if it had been enacted by the legislature instead of the voters. Don’t you think California ought to stand up to the federal government when we have the science on our side?” You might have an aide pull up Pete Wilson’s veto of the medical marijuana bills passed by the legislature in ’94 and ’95 -the supremacy of federal law was his rationale, too.