Senator Sonny Borrelli, a Republican senator from Lake Havasu City sees economic opportunity in industrial hemp and wants to bring it into Arizona. Borrelli has sponsored a proposal to establish the groundwork for an industrial hemp industry in the state. If the measure is passed, Senate Bill 1337 would legalize the farming, sale, and distribution of industrial hemp. It would task the state’s agricultural department with oversight, regulation, and licensing of the industry. The bill passed 26-4 with bipartisan support in the Senate and is now in the House.
Borrelli stated, “It’s good policy. It’s economic development, and it’s good for the agriculture community.” Borrelli praised the benefits of hemp production as an economic driver, saying it would create jobs and essentially bring Arizona into a growing industry. He added that hemp could also prove a big boost for agriculture in the water-sensitive state because it requires less water than cotton to grow. The measure comes with its opposition.
Senator David Farnsworth was one of four senators who voted against the proposal. Although he sees the commercial benefits of hemp, Farnsworth said it could pose a challenge for law enforcement officers to distinguish between a small hemp plant and a small cannabis plant. He said, “Enforcement of our marijuana laws would be more difficult if we have a lot of hemp growing.” Farnsworth also expressed concern that hemp may be a backdoor approach to legalizing cannabis. Borrelli argued that there’s a misunderstanding about hemp’s association with cannabis.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified cannabis and its cannabinoids as a Schedule I controlled substance. This also impacted hemp because it possesses the cannabinoid Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC, the part of the plant that produces a high. However, the level of THC in hemp is very low compared to cannabis. For example, the maximum THC content of legal industrial hemp in most states is about .3%, whereas NBC News reported the average THC content in Colorado’s legal marijuana to be 18.7%.