Hemp, once grown around the world, has been persecuted for decades. But Arizona lawmakers are working to bring this versatile crop back. This week, the governor of the Grand Canyon state just re-legalized hemp farming. Here’s a closer look at the pilot program laying the seeds for economic growth.
1937 was a fateful year for marijuana and its non-psychoactive sister plant, hemp. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 outlawed the cultivation of all cannabis, including marijuana and hemp. Since then, the two plants have been indistinguishable from a legal standpoint, despite their significant differences.
To date, hemp, from which you can derive the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD, is still a Schedule I substance when grown commercially. However, hemp research is no longer classified under the Controlled Substance Act since the Obama Era.
This week, Governor Doug Ducey signed an agriculture pilot program into law. Bill SB 1098 permits the study and growth of industrial hemp. This means that universities can produce it and farmers can farm and sell it on a big scale. Nevertheless, growing, processing, harvesting and transporting hemp for commercial use all require a permit from the Arizona Department of Agriculture.
The legislation specifies that hemp must be below 0.3 percent THC. Legally, anything above this qualifies as psychoactive cannabis and would be illegal, at least in Arizona.
This is a pilot program, which means that it only legalizes hemp farming in the short term. Assumedly, the program has an end date, at which point legislators will study its results and decide how to proceed. It will most likely lead to more comprehensive legislation.
In a public statement, Governor Ducey explained, “This bill opens Arizona to the possibility of a new agricultural product.” He added, “I’m glad to sign a bill that could have a positive economic impact for the state.”
As CBD grow in popularity, hemp farming is becoming big business. Unlike THC, which is psychoactive and derived from marijuana, CBD can come from both marijuana and hemp. This cannabinoid’s health benefits with the added bonus (from a medical perspective) of not getting you ‘high’ has led to a huge increase in its popularity.
Legalizing hemp farming means that you can produce CBD without the legal hassle that comes along with marijuana production. In this way, Arizona could benefit from CBD’s popularity without fully legalizing weed.
You can make a seemingly limitless number of everyday products from hemp. Hemp-derived beer is on the rise, as hemp is biologically related to hops. You can also produce fabric, milk, sunscreen, paper, fuel and so many household staples … all from hemp!
Hemp production could be a lucrative industry for any state, hence the wave of legalization. It also explains why it took Arizona (and many other states) so long to legalize: It’s in the cotton, soy, and oil industries best interest to make sure hemp stays illegal.
Arizona will be the 39th state to legalize hemp. Last year, 17 states either legalized hemp or initiated pilot programs similar to Arizona’s according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Furthermore, we’re close to making progress on the federal level. This spring. Mitch McConnell sponsored the Hemp Farming Act of 2018. The House of Representatives has yet to vote on the legislation. McConnell said in a press release, “By legalizing hemp and empowering states to conduct their own oversight plans, we can give the hemp industry the tools necessary to create jobs and new opportunities for farmers and manufacturers around the county.”
Though state initiatives are the first step, national legalization is as key for the hemp industry as it is for marijuana. Only when hemp agriculture is federally legal can these farmers access proper banking services, crop insurance, and water rights.
Until then, hemp will remain in the legal grey area between states’ rights and federal laws all too familiar to the cannabis plant family.
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