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senate bill 1337 would set up the process to produce, distribute and sell hemp across arizona under the supervision of the state's agriculture department. wochit

hemp seeds

two state lawmakers want to legalize hemp cultivation in arizona.(p o: ap)

story highlights

  • could hemp be the new cotton?
  • hemp has been imported for decades to make paper, rope, make-up and textiles

for decades, kelly anderson has cultivated his family’s land on a sprawling farm in maricopa.

he grows ornamental plants, dried wheat and foliage that are sold in craft stores. demand for the decorative plants is high, but farmers like anderson are eyeing another, potentially more lucrative crop: industrial hemp.

a variety of the cannabis plant, industrial hemp is used to make paper, rope, cosmetics, food and textiles. it contains low amounts of marijuana’s primary psychoactive chemical, but does not produce a high. until recently, it could not be legally grown anywhere in the u.s. and was imported from canada, china, europe, russia and elsewhere.

"it uses less water than cotton, it’s a very heat-tolerant plant ... and we need a good rotation-type crop to help the soil,” anderson  said. “instead of growing cotton after cotton after cotton, or hay after hay after hay, you could rotate this in. this could be used to help the ag economy and we’re always trying to expand our production base.”

two state lawmakers want to legalize hemp cultivation in arizona.

senate bill 1337 would set up the process to produce, distribute and sell hemp in arizona through a program overseen by the state agriculture department. growers and processors would be required to p criminal background checks and would have to keep detailed records about growing locations. crops could be inspected and tested by agriculture officials, and if the plants were found to have more than 0.3 percent of thc on a dry-weight basis, the crop can be destroyed and farmers can be banned from future hemp growing.

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state agriculture officials declined to discuss the legislation. the arizona farm bureau supports hemp production, a spokeswoman said, but wants to ensure the cost to regulate it isn't burdensome to the state.

“this is about rope, not dope,” republican sen. sonny borrelli, of lake havasu, said of his legislation, which has bipartisan support from yuma sen. lisa otondo, a democrat.

in his office at the state capitol, borrelli displayed products made with hemp that he picked up at a high-end natural grocer — rope, hemp seeds, lotion and soap.

“why are we not doing this?” he asked. “this is another product that our farmers could use, make money on and stimulate the economy. we’re missing out on a multibillion-dollar industry.”

the trade group vote hemp estimates the value of hemp products sold in the u.s. at $600 million.

since a provision in the 2014 u.s. farm bill signed into law by president barack obama defined hemp as distinct from marijuana, at least 30 states have p ed industrial-hemp legislation. the states have established research or pilot programs, commercial programs and authorized studies, according to the national conference of state legislatures. nearly 10,000 acres of hemp were grown in 15 states last year, according to vote hemp.

in a desert state like arizona — where agriculture uses the largest share of water — hemp requires less water than cotton, grows faster, produces higher yields and uses less fertilizer, say the lawmakers, who are pitching the idea to farmers, irrigation district board members and agricultural ociations.

otondo said the legislation has gotten a good reception from farmers and irrigation district board members, especially in light of the water crisis. her hope is to establish a hemp industry that will attract processing plants to the state and create more jobs.

"we could have processing plants for seeds, for textiles, processing plants to extract the oils," she said. "we are really in a great position to get in on the ground floor."

related: arizona considers raising age limit to buy cigarettes to 21

but a prior attempt to legalize hemp farming failed in 2014, and this year's legislation has its critics.

while some farmers may see potential in growing hemp crops, others are leery of subjecting themselves to more regulations.

“you don’t want somebody else breathing down your back, watching every move you make," said paco ollerton, a pinal county cotton, wheat and alfalfa farmer who is president of the arizona cotton grower’s ociation.

and the stigma of marijuana could keep them away.

“i think there’s fear in the public that it is very similar to cannabis,” he said. “from a grower’s standpoint, i think my concern is just that we don’t know enough about it.”

the legislation could also face opposition from lawmakers who perceive hemp as equal to marijuana. otondo, who had a representative from vote hemp talk to democrats about the bill this week, said she is trying to educate lawmakers about the difference.

"this has nothing to do with recreational or medical marijuana," she said.

western growers, which represents local and regional farmers in arizona, california, and colorado, has no position on the bill.

follow the reporter on twitter @yvonnewingett and reach her at [email protected] or 602-444-4712.

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