With the passage of Proposition 71 in California, Big Biotech appears to have succeeded in sparking a cloning “Oklahoma Land Race,” pitting the various states against each other in an intense and bitter competition to attract biotech companies to locate within their borders.

These perks come in two general forms, sometimes combined. First, laws allowing bio-scientists to do, essentially, any kind of experiments that their imaginations can conger. Some states back up these unlimited research licenses with promises of corporate welfare to pay companies to do their experiments:

Item: In 2003, California struck the first blow by explicitly legalizing the cloning of human embryos and allowing them to be maintained for 14 days. To sweeten the pot, the state agreed to spend a few million taxpayer dollars each year as an incentive for biotechnology companies to move to the Golden State and partner with the state’s university life science departments.

Item: Earlier this year, New Jersey upped the ante, not only legalizing human SCNT, but also permitting implantation of the resulting cloned embryos, and their gestation through the 9th month. The state then tripled California’s taxpayer support for such research to the tune of about $6.5 million.

Item: But this was mere chickenfeed. Big Biotech wanted access to real cash to pay for cloning research that private investors were generally shunning. So, seduced by a $25 million campaign promising CURES! CURES! CURES! Californians passed Proposition 71, which granted a state constitutional right to engage in human cloning-and funded these experiments with a mind boggling $3 billion of borrowed money over ten years. This, in a state that is flat broke!

Now, in the aftermath of Proposition 71, other states are in panic mode, fearing that their biotech companies will relocate to California to feed off of the Golden State’s corporate pork. Legislators in Massachusetts have vowed to pass biotech friendly laws explicitly welcoming embryonic stem cell research enterprises into the state. Illinois is poised to follow suit, each state tripping over the other to seem the most “cloning-friendly.”

This urgency has changed the entire public policy paradigm. Long gone are the days when researchers promised they would limit their embryonic stem cell experiments to in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos that were due to be destroyed anyway. Now, they insist on a legal milieu in which virtually anything goes.

For example, Illinois’ HB33589 would legalize the use of stem cells derived from “any source” including, apparently, embryos created through fertilization for the purpose of research and embryos manufactured through somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning). The bill would also permit the use of “embryonic germ cells,” which cannot be obtained from an embryo in a dish but require gestation for up to eight weeks.