hempn.jpgCalifornia’s sagging manufacturing and (non-cannabis-related) farming economies could be revitalized if a law allowing the state’s farmers to grow hemp — the only commodity that is legal for Americans to import, export, buy, sell and transport but not grow — is passed, a lawmaker announced Saturday.

The bill, to be introduced this legislative session by State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), has yet to be finalized but it is a redux of similar legislation, also introduced by Leno, that passed both chambers of the state Legislature in 2007. It was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“It [the ban on hemp farming] is crazy. It’s only illegal when it’s growing in the ground,” Leno told the Appeal. “Allowing California farmers to grow hemp just makes sense.”

With Jerry Brown in the governor’s mansion, and the economy in the crapper, the bill could be a slam-dunk, Leno told the Appeal. Leno is close to securing a Republican co-sponsor, but can not yet name names, he said.

The bill’s final language will reflect “my [Republican] colleagues’ comfort levels,” said Leno, referring to nuances like county-by-county pilot programs and a “sunset” on the bill itself, which might assuage public safety-minded members of the Legislature.

One knock on hemp farming in California is that it is presented as a magic panacea, a cure-all for the state’s woes that has a checkered history with actual farmers: in the late 1990s, a hemp experiment with Canadian farmers failed miserably. Buyers for the hemp crops were hard to find.

That might not be a problem in California this time around: if the bill passes, industry is promised for depressed areas like Bakersfield, Leno said. Dr. Bronner’s, the hemp soap manufacturer, has pledged to build a soap factory near the Kern County transit hub if the law passes, Leno said. Update: Ryan Fletcher. spokesperson for Dr. Bronner’s, says that no such commitment’s been made by the company. A call to Leno’s press office with this information has yet to be returned, we will update when we hear from them.

Hemp’s other benefits — it can be used as fiber for clothing, it can be burned as a renewable biofuel, it uses less nutrients and less water than other crops, and replenishes soil with nitrogen and other nutrients when plowed under — come guaranteed. The water issue alone could be panacea enough for Central Valley farmers who rely on exported water — from places like Humboldt and Trinity counties in the state’s Emerald Triangle — for their daily bread.

“With a down economy, and farmers struggling, and you have a crop that uses less water?” Leno asked. “Why are we not doing this is the question.”

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