Pubdate: Tue, 28 Jan 2014
Source: Today's News-Herald (Lake Havasu City, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 Today's News-Herald
Author: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Bookmark: (Hemp)


Phoenix, AZ - Calling it good for agriculture, two Lake Havasu City 
GOP lawmakers are pushing to allow farmers to grow hemp without 
running afoul of state marijuana laws.

"I'm not a big proponent of marijuana," Sen. Kelli Ward told members 
of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. "I am a proponent of 
economic development and ways to help Arizona to thrive."

And what that means, she said, is removing at least one legal hurdle 
that keeps Arizona farmers out of the hemp business: SB 1122 would 
say that the laws against marijuana do not apply if the concentration 
of THC, the psychoactive elements, is less than three-tenths of one percent.

Rep. Sonny Borrelli said the ban makes no sense.

He pointed out that while growing hemp is illegal, there's no 
prohibition on importing and possessing products made of hemp into 
this country. Borrelli illustrated that with a rope he bought at a 
grocery story that had been made in China.

"You'd have to smoke this whole bale here to get high," Borrelli told 
lawmakers. "By that time, you're going to die of smoke inhalation 
before you get even impaired or intoxicated."

But the legislation is running into opposition from prosecutors and 
even the crime lab at the state Department of Public Safety. And the 
key is that, for all intents and purposes, marijuana and its 
less-psychoactive cousin are virtually impossible to tell apart.

There is a long history of hemp production in this country. Much of 
the paper during revolutionary days came from hemp.

"Our own Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper," Borrelli said.

That's only partly right. While some versions of the document are on 
hemp, the copy on display at the National Archives, is on parchment. 
Either way, Borrelli figures it's a product that can easily be grown 
in this country.

"And, by the way, we can save a lot of trees," he said.

Katy Proctor who represents the Department of Public Safety, warned 
lawmakers there are implications if they go down that path -- and not 
anything to do with anyone getting "off" on hemp.

She said the DPS crime lab, asked to test a seized product to see if 
it's marijuana, does a simple test. That comes back pretty much with 
a yes-or-no answer.

But any law that makes legal very low-grade marijuana -- which 
essentially is what hemp is -- would then require the lab to do a 
"dry weight analysis" to determine the sample's THC content.

She said that turns what is now a 10-minute test into one that takes 
two hours, no small difference when the lab is doing 10,000 of these a year.

Kathleen Mayer, a deputy Pima County attorney, said that creates 
problems for her office, too.

"When individuals start growing a product that looks visually just 
like marijuana, and they're driving down the road with bales of it 
.. the individual may say, 'No, it's hemp,' and the law enforcement 
officer isn't going to know that," Mayer said. She said that forces 
prosecutors to have to send out samples and wait for results before 
deciding whether to pursue charges.

And the backlog that already exists at the crime lab is only part of 
the problem.

"It's going to become a problem for defendants who may or may not be 
being legitimately charged and held," she said.

There is another factor: The Drug Enforcement Administration pretty 
much bans growing hemp by prohibiting the interstate transportation 
of viable seeds.

But the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that nine 
states already have laws that permit the growing of industrial hemp, 
specifically excluding it from their marijuana laws.

A vote on SB 1122 was postponed when Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, 
who signed on as a sponsor of the measure, suggested it might need to 
be reworked. She said it might be preferable to amend the state's 
agriculture laws to allow hemp cultivation rather than trying to 
alter the criminal code.

This isn't the first bid by some GOP lawmakers to pave the way for 
hemp production in Arizona.

The Legislature actually approved a measure in 2001 to allow the 
state's three universities study whether hemp production makes sense 
in Arizona. But that bid was killed by then-Gov. Jane Hull who 
questioned what she said was unwise use of "scarce resources."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom