PHOENIX, Ariz. (May 26, 2017) – On Monday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed a bill that would have established a structure for a federally compliant hemp research program in the state.
Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) introduced Senate Bill1337 (SB1337) on Jan. 31. Under the proposed law, industrial hemp would have been treated as an agricultural crop subject to regulation by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. As passed, the legislation directed the department to set up a federally compliant licensing and regulation program for industrial hemp research.
As introduced and originally passed by the Senate, the bill would have authorized commercial hemp production and included a provision barring the department from making licensing contingent on federal permission. Rep. Brenda Barton filed an amendment on the House floor requiring the department of agriculture to follow all federal laws when issuing licenses. This means Arizona farmers would only be able to produce hemp for research purposes.
The House passed the amended version of SB1337 on May 9 by a 53-2 vote. The Senate concurred with the amended version 29-0 the following day.
Ducey said he vetoed the bill because there was no funding appropriation included to properly implement the program.
FEDERAL FARM BILL
Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”
…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.
In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions, or within state pilot programs, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited.
As introduced and initially passed by the Senate, SB1337 would have ignored federal prohibition and authorized commercial farming and production anyway. Barton’s amendment neutered the bill. In fact, the most robust hemp industries have developed in states not concerned with federal compliance, such as Colorado. Farmers in southeastern Colorado began harvesting hemp in the fall of 2013 after growing the crop was legalized in the state along with recreational marijuana. In 2015, the first large-scale industrial hemp processing plant opened. Last year, the amount of hemp planted doubled. Some have called the Centennial State the “Silicon Valley of Hemp.”
A FOUNDATION TO BUILD ON
Although the bill sent to Gov. Ducey wouldn’t have had the impact of the original legislation, it still would have created a foundation to build on. West Virginia provides a blueprint Arizona could have followed.
In 2014, the West Virginia implemented a federally compliant hemp research licensing program similar to the one proposed by SB1337. After three years of experience, the state recognized the limits of its federally compliant program. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported that the limits of the current program due to its conformity with federal law has hindered the development of a hemp industry.
“But because of the strict requirements under the 2014 bill, growers are not able to sell their plants and cannot transport them across state lines to be turned into those usable products. That’s limited the ability to create a real hemp industry in the state.”
Last month, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill into law significantly expanding the state’s hemp licensing program, opening the door for anybody in the state to produce or process industrial hemp for commercial purposes, simply ignoring the federal law.
If Gov. Ducey had signed SB1337 into law, it would have laid a foundation for Arizona to follow the same path.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, other states have set the stage to nullify the federal hemp ban in practice. States – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, California and Vermont have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.
While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the requirement for federal permission, these states clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.
Farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, 2105, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately nullifying the federal ban in effect.
HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP
According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.
During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”.
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