With one amendment, the House passed SB 1337 which directs the state Department of Agriculture to issue licenses for the growing of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is essentially a relative of marijuana, but with a minimal concentration of THC, the psychoactive element of marijuana, of less than 0.3 percent.
When asked about the difference, the sponsor of the bill Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said even if someone got their hands on the stuff and smoked it, they would be wasting their time.
Borelli’s goal is to allow farmers to grow what he sees could be a good cash crop, with hemp useful for everything from fibers for clothing to oils.
Borrelli, “Once again, we have another regulatory agency telling us what we can grow,” he said.
Although, the Department of Justice appears uninterested in pursuing those who grow marijuana legally in states where that’s allowed, it would be a “contradiction” for the federal government to take a harsher approach over the growing of hemp.
However to be safe, Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, added language on Monday to say the state can’t issue hemp-growing licenses to anyone unless and until hemp production is legalized at the federal level.
A 2014 federal law allows universities and state departments of agriculture to begin cultivating industrial hemp in certain circumstances, including research. Some states already are moving in that direction.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports 16 states have legalized hemp production for commercial purposes, with another 20 having laws allowing research and pilot programs. NCSL reports that some are in compliance with federal laws that already allow research; some of the laws are conditional on changes in federal laws.
The Pima County Attorney’s office initially opposed Borrelli’s legislation, saying that the version approved by the House is more acceptable. The office agreed that there now appears to be sufficient regulatory and testing requirements to ensure that what the state is legalizing does not become an excuse for farmers to start growing fields of marijuana and claiming it is hemp.
The bill now goes back to the Senate for concurrance on the amendment and then on to the Governor for signature allowing cultivation of a centuries old multi-use crop.