AB 1147 is not the biggest bill of this legislative session, but it is one of the most intriguing - and most fun.
Start with its purpose: to legalize the growing of hemp, a cousin of marijuana - both members of the notorious cannabis family.
Then proceed to the bill's joint authors, a pun that's unavoidable. (Groooan - G)
One is a liberal San Francisco Democrat, Assemblyman Mark Leno; the other a conservative Irvine Republican, Chuck DeVore.
If nothing else, this bill shows it is possible for two legislators of diametrically opposite ideologies to acknowledge some common ground and work together to change public policy.
Both agree that hemp - advocates call it industrial hemp - is taking off worldwide as a plant used for fiber (in car door panels, for example), food (energy bars, granola, smoothies) and body care (shampoos, soaps).
And they think it's illogical that the federal government allows the importation of foreign hemp for American manufacturing into legally sold products, but bans the growing of hemp by American farmers. So they're trying to force the issue.
Their bill would sanction the growing of hemp in California for sale within the state, but forbid interstate commerce of "viable" seeds - those that can germinate - in an effort to keep the feds from nosing around. No doubt federal courts ultimately would sort it all out.
The bill also would define hemp, under California law, as a safe crop, not a drug.
About fuckin' time.
Hemp has a long and distinguished history, at least until it was unfairly maligned by drug warriors during the last century. Rope, sails and paper have been made from hemp all through civilization. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it.
In the 1800s, hemp was America's third-largest agricultural product. But it was labor-intensive and became less economical because of the cotton gin and the abolition of slavery. Still, hemp was grown in California until the Depression, when the feds cracked down on marijuana and mistakenly booked its innocent cousin in the bust.
During World War II, Washington begged farmers to resume growing the crop, promoting a "Hemp for Victory" campaign. But in 1970, cultivation was banned under the Controlled Substances Act. Any hemp needed for making products had to be imported.
One major opponent is the 7,000-member California Narcotic Officers' Assn. It says officers would have trouble distinguishing between marijuana and hemp. Pot is a short plant. And although hemp grown for fiber is bamboo-tall, when it's cultivated just for seed, the plant looks more like marijuana.
"If the Canadian Mounties can understand the difference, don't you think American law enforcement could?" responds Roulac. "It's an insult to the intelligence of American officers."
It's not very hard to insult the intelligence of most cops. Some of them could maybe learn to tell the difference. The poppy is California's state flower, and no one busts the poppy farmers for growing opium. At least I don't think so...
Besides intriguing and fun, AB 1147 is sensible. Not allowing farmers to grow marijuana's harmless cousin is akin to reefer madness.