The Health Ministry's new regulations will still classify industrial hemp as a controlled drug, which makes it an offense to advertise it for drug purposes or to supply it to unauthorized people. But it can now be grown and sold by farmers.
Hemp can be used to make foods like milk and baked goods, as well as cosmetics, rope, textiles, paper and plastics, and its byproducts can be made into biofuels. It's also a healthier alternative to traditional dairy and processed wheat products.
Hemp advocates around the world have been lobbying for the legalization of the plant. San Francisco assemblyman Mark Leno -- a democrat -- and Irvine republican Chuck DeVore have teamed up to pass a bill this legislative session that would legalize the industrial growing of hemp in California.
Leno and DeVore say it is illogical for the federal government to allow the United States to import hemp for U.S. manufacturing in legal products, but to ban American farmers from growing hemp themselves. If the bill passes, hemp would be classified as a fully safe crop -- not a drug, since hemp contains only small traces of the dope THC (three-tenths of 1 percent).
"There's no more THC in hemp than the poppy seed on your bagel has opium," Leno says.
California entrepreneurs say if the crop were legalized, the potential benefits -- both health-wise and finance-wise -- would be "enormous."