County News

To some, it’s the sticks and stems that are where the money’s at.

Arizona State Sen. Sonny Borrelli [R-District 5] introduced SB 1337, a bill that would allow the commercial growth and processing of hemp in Arizona.

Hemp, for all scientific purposes, is the same plant commonly called marijuana. However, the plant in this case is used to make rope and other non-intoxicating goods. As a result, the types of cannabis grown for this purpose generally have a lower concentration of THC, which is the drug that causes people to become high when ingested, and are more fibrous.

In the bill, commercial hemp’s strength and composition is described as “all nonseed parts and varieties of the cannabis sativa l. plant, whether growing or not, that contain a tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 3/10 percent on a dry weight basis.” Processed hemp and seeds also come under the bill’s definition of commercial hemp.

Medical marijuana grow houses have become a larger aspect of the Verde Valley economy, and hemp grow houses could increase the cultivation of the plant locally if passed.

Arizona State Rep. Bob Thorpe, [R-District 6], which encompasses parts of Yavapai and Coconino counties, is listed as a co-sponsor of the bill.

The purpose of the bill, according to a press release from the state GOP, is to bring a potentially profitable crop to the state that is less water-intensive and requires less fertilizer than cotton, which is used to create many of the same products.

“Compared to cotton, hemp grows faster and produces higher yields per acre, decreasing the environmental costs,” the release states.

In terms of profit, the release cites global numbers of an estimated $580 million in annual sales.

Fees will be collected to cover the cost of regulation. That money will be kept in a trust separate from the state’s general fund.

“With the Arizona Legislature’s focus on economic growth and development, now is the appropriate time to explore this burgeoning industry and to reap the potential profits it can bring,” Borrelli said.

Since recreational marijuana is still illegal in Arizona, the bill would amend current law and put regulations, including licenses, on the growth and sale of the plant. Background checks would be required for those looking to get into the industry, as well as other compliance factors such as record keeping and fingerprinting.

The industry would be regulated by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. According to the bill, hemp has been cleared as an agricultural product in Arizona, “authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014 [P.l. 113-79; 128 Stat. 649; 7 United States Code Section 5940].” Also known as the U.S. Farm Bill, this act keeps growth of hemp compliant with federal law, unlike state medicinal marijuana.

Penalties for selling the plant for use other than approved hemp will still result in potential drug law violations, in addition to any punitive action taken by the Department of Agriculture.

Oversight of the hemp industry “may not prohibit or adopt a rule that prohibits a person from growing  industrial hemp based on  the legal status of industrial hemp under federal law.”

Hemp and the DEA
The nonprofit Hemp Industries Association, along with others, have filed a petition for review in January to challenge the Final Rule of the Drug Enforcement Agency regarding “marihuana extract,” which can be determined to include hemp. The petition states that the power to change existing law — the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill and others — lies with Congress, not the DEA. Under the Final Rule, hemp could be included as a Schedule 1 controlled substance even in processed form, meaning hemp rope could be treated much like heroin.

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