UPDATE: Governor Doug Ducey Signs Arizona Hemp Bill

Governor Doug Ducey has an Arizona hemp bill on his desk — will he sign or veto it?
Governor Doug Ducey has an Arizona hemp bill on his desk — will he sign or veto it? Digital Aesthetica via Flickr
(UPDATE: Ducey tweeted on Monday that he signed the hemp bill into law.)

"Glad to sign a bill that could have positive economic impacts for #AZ. This opens the state to the possibility of a new agricultural product," Ducey tweeted:)

Original May 8 story below:

Governor Doug Ducey, one of the state's most aggressive cannabis-legalization opponents, may be ready to make Arizona one of the country's leading producers of hemp.

The state Legislature passed a far-reaching commercial hemp bill, SB 1098, over the last few weeks of the 2018 session and sent it to Ducey after adjournment on May 4.

If the governor signs it, or if he doesn't veto it by May 14, Arizona will become the 35th state to make hemp legal under state laws, and the 11th to approve commercial hemp cultivation and sales.

Ducey's spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said on Tuesday he did not have a schedule for when the governor may or may not sign the bill.

Ducey helped raise millions of dollars to defeat an adult-use cannabis ballot measure in 2016. But the bill's main sponsor and proponent, State Senator Sonny Borrelli, said he doesn't anticipate a veto.

Like Ducey, the Republican senator from Lake Havasu City opposes adult-use cannabis legalization. But in the past two years, he's been a tireless supporter of legal hemp, which is a type of cannabis that has no psychoactive properties.

Ducey vetoed a different hemp bill sponsored by Borrelli last year, saying the only reason he was doing so was because the bill did not appropriate funds to meet the expected expenses of a hemp program.

This time, "I think we covered everything," Borrelli said.

Among other things, the hemp bill legalizes the growing and distribution of hemp under a pilot program run by the state Department of Agriculture, and allows hemp to be grown and sold if such activities are allowed under federal law. Like legal hemp in other states, Arizona's hemp would be required to remain below 0.3 percent THC, the cannabis compound that gets people high.

Only authorized growers who obtain state permits good for one year could grow hemp under the bill. Backyard cannabis grows will remain illegal except for medical marijuana patients who live more than 25 miles from an operating dispensary.

The bill appropriates $750,000 in state money to run the program. That includes $250,000 for three full-time-equivalent positions at the agriculture department, and $500,000 for the department to use toward other program expenses. However, the permitting and licensing portion of the program is expected to raise an undetermined amount of money.

Borrelli likes to repeat a favorite slogan about the bill: "It's about rope, not dope."

"I believe it's good policy," he said of the hemp bill. "I do believe it's going to benefit the state [economically.]"

It'll be boon for Arizona farmers, he said. Hemp harvests can be cut four times a year, compared to one annual harvest for cotton. With approximately 1,500 pounds of hemp cuttings collected per acre, "that's a heck of a harvest," he said.

Colleen Keahey Lanier, executive director of the Hemp Industries Association, called the likely possibility that Ducey will sign the bill "exciting."

Hemp seed oil, which is rich in protein and nutrients, can be used in body lotions, drinks, and food. Cannabinoids in hemp like cannabidiol (CBD), which many people believe has healing and therapeutic properties, can be extracted from hemp.

Federal law remains hazy on the issue. Technically, hemp is cannabis, and cannabis is a Schedule One drug under the Controlled Substances Act. But like cannabis, it's being tolerated by the federal government because of challenges by state law.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which would end the uncertainty and make hemp legal under federal law. McConnell said hemp is being "added to concrete and home insulation," being made into extracts for health products, and has even been made into hemp-infused beer.

The hemp bill is the only cannabis-related bill to make it out of the Arizona Legislature this year. Lawmakers failed to approve a high-profile bill that would have mandated the testing of medical marijuana for contaminants just before adjourning.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern