A bill to legalize industrialized hemp in Arizona is winding its way through the state legislature. The state senate’s version of the bill, SB 1337, has garnered wide bipartisan support, with sponsors such as Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) and Minority Whip Lupe Contreras (D) of the Phoenix metroplex’s District 19.
The bill would legalize the cultivation, distribution and sale of industrial hemp. It would also empower the Arizona Agriculture Department to regulate and license the prospective industry. Currently, the growing of industrial hemp is illegal nationwide. The Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies hemp as a Schedule I drug, on par with heroin and LSD, despite the fact that hemp contains very modest to zero amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
Mikel Weisser, Deputy Director for the Arizona chapter of NORML, is enthusiastic about the possibility of state-legal hemp. “We believe it’s about time” hemp was legalized, Weisser says. “I’m hoping we can see hemp growing in both [the] Mojave and La Paz Counties,” both of which are located in northwestern Arizona.
Weisser might have reason for optimism. Hemp, Inc., a North Carolina company, has teamed with This Land Is Your Land, a for-profit company currently building a community north of Kingman, AZ, which plans to grow industrial hemp and also provide education about this multi-use plant.
Dwight Jory, project manager for the Kingman project, says that state-legal hemp could be an economic boom to northwestern Arizona. “People desperately need jobs in this rural area,” Jory says. “We could be planting a couple hundred acres,” he says, so long as the state legalizes hemp.
The Kingman project is located on 500 acres, and plans include construction of geodesic domes to be used for education and possible habitation. “We’re building what we call the Veterans Village Care Center,” Jory says, “for the purpose of educating primarily veterans in the growing of hemp. We’re very passionate about helping vets, and we understand the difficulties some vets face when they muster out of service.”
Another group supportive of legalizing hemp is MomForce AZ, a non-profit educational organization that advocates for cannabis education, harm prevention and whole-health solutions for those who suffer from challenging ailments such as multiple sclerosis, epileptic seizures and opiate abuse.
Kathy Inman is MomForce AZ director. She says that hemp legalization is “extremely important. Legalization has to happen.” Inman cites not only the economic benefits of legal hemp, but also the hundreds, if not thousands, of uses for the ubiquitous plant, including: clothing, fuel, paper, building supplies and a replacement to plastics—just to name a few.
Still, some Arizona politicians remain steadfastly against legalization. State Senator David Farnsworth, a republican from Mesa, says that legalization would create additional challenges for law enforcement, especially as hemp resembles cannabis strains high in THC; Farnsworth believes officers will have a difficult time distinguishing hemp plants from THC-laden cannabis.
State Senator Borrelli disagrees. In a March 7 article, the Arizona Daily Independent (ADI) reported Borrelli as saying that the passage of SB 1337 “…is good policy. It’s economic development, and it’s good for the agriculture community.” Borrelli also told the ADI that hemp would boost agriculture in his water-sensitive state, and that hemp requires less water to grow than cotton.
Multiple sources suggest that legalizing hemp could create a profit of upwards of $600 million per year. Hemp has been shown to provide thousands of uses, including the all-important bio-fuel. The United States is the only developed country in the world that prohibits the growing of industrial hemp. Hemp is one of the world’s oldest domesticated crops, and given its growth pattern, hemp typically grows free of weeds. It is also 100 percent biodegradable.
The last day for legislative bills in Arizona to be considered in committees is April 14, although that stipulation can be extended by a majority votes of the legislative chambers. Weisser worries that the bill may stall in legislative committee. “It’s time to move forward,” he says.