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DeVore backs legal hemp

Republican Assemblyman laughs about being the 'joint author' of a bill that would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp.

August 20, 2006|By Alicia Robinson

Newport Beach Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore took on a crusade some considered out of character when he championed a bill that would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp in California.

State senators passed the bill last week, though only three Republicans supported it, and it now goes back to Assembly members, who must consider some Senate amendments.

A rock-ribbed conservative, DeVore seems an unlikely supporter of the measure, which was proposed by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno.

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"There's this perception that somehow hemp and marijuana are the same," DeVore said. "Certainly from the point of a campaign hit piece, you could make the claim that you're being soft on drugs, when in reality it has nothing to do with that."

DeVore read a convincing brochure about hemp, which produces strong fibers and can be used in soap, paper, fabric and building materials. He was convinced of its benefits: It can be grown with less water and fewer pesticides and fertilizers than many crops, and he believed it would be good for the state's farmers and economy.

Supporting industrial hemp is not advocating drug use, DeVore said, because the bill includes requirements that growers show their plants contain less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive drug THC — while the related plant people smoke can contain up to 15% of THC.

So when Leno came to solicit his support, DeVore got on board — though he did ask Leno, why him?

"He's looking at me and he says, 'Because, Chuck, you've got a reputation as someone who cares more about public policy than partisan politics,' " DeVore said.

But when the bill comes up again in the Assembly, possibly as early as today, DeVore will face stiffer opposition than what he usually gets from across the aisle.

The California Narcotic Officers Assn. is leading the charge against the bill and was recently joined by a number of other law enforcement groups, including the California Police Officers Assn. and the California Fraternal Order of Police.

John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Narcotic Officers Assn., said the hemp bill would reap terrible results for law enforcement because industrial hemp is "indistinguishable from marijuana, either visually or from the air," which would lead to wild goose chases that sap police resources.

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