Farm bill would allow hemp cultivation in California

CHICO, Calif. - The federal government is ready to let farmers grow cannabis, at least the kind that can't get people high.

Hemp, marijuana's non-intoxicating cousin, could soon be cultivated in 10 states, including California.  That's one of the provisions of the farm bill agreement reached in Congress late Monday.

Many businesses in Chico and other cities already sell products made from imported hemp, including clothes, cooking oil, protein powder and granola.  Topher Dalton is the grocery manager at at Chico Natural Foods in downtown Chico.  He said the store already carries many of these products.

"We sell a decent amount of it, but I wouldn't say it qualifies as one of our top sellers," said Dalton.  "It's not significant for us." 

But more hemp products could be sold in the future.  The new farm bill will clear the way for American farmers to cultivate hemp, a market currently dominated by Canada and China.

Andy Keller is the founder and president of ChicoBag, which employees about two dozen workers. 

Some of its produce bags, which shoppers use for fruits and vegetables, contain hemp.  Keller said hemp is a very versatile crop, an ideal material to carry relatively heavy produce.

"Hemp is good because it's strong and durable," said Keller. "It grows like a weed, literally." 

ChicoBag gets its hemp products from China. Keller said Canada is also a huge exporter of the crop to the United States.  

"Right now, the U.S. is losing out on this crop," said Keller. "We're forbidden from growing it for no apparent good reason."

Keller said it makes sense to allow the cultivation of hemp in the U.S.  It still may be some time before the domestically-grown hemp will enter the market place.  But allowing its cultivation, removes one barrier in the process.

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