This legislative session a large group of legislators from both the Democratic and Republican caucuses signed on as co-sponsors to SB1337 with Republican Senator Sonny Borelli, the bill’s primary sponsor in an attempt to create a legal hemp industry in Arizona. This bill passed through the Senate with little opposition and is now in the House of Representatives awaiting a House Rules Committee hearing.
For the proponents of this bill the argument for having a hemp industry in Arizona is simple. In a state with scarce water resources for farming and a large cotton industry, the benefits of growing hemp are dramatic. Unlike cotton, hemp uses far less water when it is being grown for industrial purposes and just like cotton, hemp can be used for basically all of the industrial applications for which cotton is currently farmed. Water savings are not the only reason that hemp is a good investment for Arizona’s farming community. Hemp is a very heat-tolerant plant and it actually reconditions the soil compared to the deplenishing effects of growing cotton. This means that even for farmers of other crops like cotton, hemp can be grown in rotation with the other main crops as a way to make the soil more suitable for additional crops to be grown on that same land in the future.
As the proponents of the bill add, hemp is a variety of the Cannabis plant that can be used to make anything from paper and rope to cosmetics, food and clothing. Hemp is also different from other Cannabis plants because it contains low amounts of the primary psychoactive chemical in Cannabis plants that are used for the production of marijuana. Even with these differences between hemp plants and plants grown for marijuana production, hemp cannot legally be grown industrially in Arizona or most places in the United States because it is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug just like marijuana. This federal classification causes big issues for the growth of this highly beneficial industry in Arizona and other places in the United States and likely is one reason that a small group of legislators are still in opposition to an industrial hemp industry in Arizona.
One such opponent is Republican Senator David Farnsworth. When questioned about his no vote in the Senate on SB1337, Senator Farnsworth stated that he does see hemp’s commercial benefits but that hemp might create challenges for law enforcement to distinguish a small hemp plant from a small marijuana plant and that “[e]nforcement of our marijuana laws would be more difficult if we have a lot of hemp growing”. Finally, Senator Farnsworth has made statements that he is worried that hemp could be used as a backdoor way to legalize marijuana in Arizona, even though no marijuana plants would be able to be grown on hemp fields under the way the bill is written.
Proponents of a hemp industry would likely point out that Senator Farnsworth’s arguments miss the point because the language of SB1337 would set up the process to produce, distribute and sell hemp without changing any of Arizona’s medical marijuana laws and that hemp plants are clearly distinguishable by the naked eye from flowering marijuana plants. Also, SB1337 would create a very stringent program with oversight by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. If passed, SB1337 would require all people employed in the hemp program to pass criminal background checks and all growers and producers would have to keep detailed records about where all hemp is grown. Under this program. all hemp would be inspected and tested by agriculture department. When tested, if any plant is found to have more than 0.3 percent of THC, the crop would be destroyed and the farmer would be banned from growing hemp.
With only a few weeks left in this legislative session, the hope remains that SB1337 will be passed out of the legislature and sent on to the governor for him to sign it into law but until this bill is heard in the Rules Committee it cannot move forward. Check AMMA PAC’s weekly legislative updates for more information on this bill in upcoming weeks.
Source: Cronkite News