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Close to Home: Hemp promises new money, new jobs

In recent years, few natural products have received the widespread attention of CBD, derived from the environmentally friendly hemp plant. Consumers have embraced CBD products to support their general wellness. Farmers have been planting hemp to be processed into CBD to boost their income in a difficult agri-economy. Many states, and other countries, are reaping the benefits of job creation and tax revenue from this promising new industry.

In California, we are missing out on this incredible opportunity. We are falling further behind daily, while unregulated, “foreign” hemp-CBD products flood into the state without any need to comply with California’s public health standards.

The problem lies in how California law treats CBD. When it is derived from cannabis, CBD can be legally sold in our state’s licensed dispensaries. When CBD comes from hemp, though, there is no clear authorization.

Cecilia Aguiar-Curry
Cecilia Aguiar-Curry
Buffy Wicks
Buffy Wicks

The state Department of Public Health and county public health departments have engaged in enforcement actions against the manufacture, storage and sale of hemp products. These actions have chilled commerce in hemp CBD, impairing California farmers, creating barriers for consumers and placing the state at a competitive disadvantage with the more than 20 other states that have passed legislation that authorize the retail sale of hemp-derived CBD, including, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Florida and Iowa.

Last year, Assembly Bill 228 would have explicitly permitted the retail sale of CBD derived from hemp in food, beverages, dietary supplements and cosmetics. The bill passed through the Assembly unanimously, but without support from state public health regulators it hit a wall in the Senate.

Now, we are making another run at authorizing hemp-based CBD, and the timing couldn’t be more critical. The COVID-19 pandemic has sent our economy into an abrupt downturn. Tax revenues have plummeted, unemployment is at record levels, and the state’s ability to quickly rebound is uncertain.

Unlike many industries that will have to rebuild over the next few years to achieve their previous stature, the hemp industry is thriving and new money is ready to flow into state and local coffers. The hemp industry offers jobs, with an opportunity to build a framework that would provide for standards that protect workers’ rights in agriculture, processing, manufacturing, distribution, retail, testing and other fields that would serve the supply chain.

A number of market analysts have underscored the economic value of this emerging industry. Projections range from $2.5 billion by 2023 for just the food and beverage component of the industry to $13 billion for all CBD retail by 2024. Several reports have noted that the food and beverage segment will dominate the hemp CBD market. Legal clarity would result in millions of dollars’ worth of investments in the state.

Unfortunately, the status quo means that businesses, consumers and the state all lose.

The unregulated marketplace is full of hemp-CBD products that pose health and safety concerns. Our proposal would ensure that CBD products sold in California meet specific standards for labeling, testing, content and safety.

Further, it would prohibit claims that misrepresent the therapeutic benefits of CBD and requires manufacturers to register with the Department of Public Health and comply with California’s food and cosmetic safety laws.

Most significantly, it requires an independent lab test with a certificate of analysis that guarantees quality assurance for all hemp-CBD products to ensure there are no threats from pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents or other contaminants.

California has the potential to become a major player in the hemp industry, similar to the cannabis boom. The safety and quality standards implemented in this legislation would allow the industry to take off, helping farmers, supporting the state’s economy and promoting safer and higher quality products.

We want California to lead, not follow. Californians deserve to have a reliable, regulated and transparent California alternative to the Wild West market that exists today. If you agree, contact your legislators to urge them to support our efforts to promote jobs, tax revenues, farm opportunities and safer products for consumers, all though expanding the legal sale and regulation of CBD.

Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat, represents the 4th state Assembly district, and Napa County and parts of Sonoma, Yolo and Solano Counties, and Buffy Wicks, a Democrat, represents the 15th Assembly District.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com.

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