BY MIKEL WEISSER
A moderately-sized, unusually subdued crowd was on hand for the final public hearing on the regulations for the state’s brand new hemp program Monday May 20th. Held downtown in the gorgeous Armstrong Great Hall a the Beus Center for Law and Society at the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law, this was both the last hearing and the first one in months with available seating.
Even committee attendance was down with only six of the seven committee members attended. JL Echeverria was absent. But by this point, after nearly a year in development, most of the language in the regulations has already been settled.
All in all, the meeting was about tying up loose ends. As committee member Colleen Lanier said, giving props to hemp program manager Brian McGrew, “Really good clean up job, Brian. Nice work editing the draft.” While there’s no doubt McGrew made impressive progress in organizing the committee’s suggestions, there were, however, some major points still being ironed out by the committee.
Seeds of a New Dynasty
Once again, the biggest topic for discussion was how to get and feel secure about seeds and propagules. Other hemp producing states and countries have created seed certification programs, but with no way to trace the genetics of any company’s seeds, whether certified or not, the committee opted to not require certified seeds this first growing season. The phrase “Buyer Beware” was used so many times it could have been a drinking game. Growers who produce certifiable hemp will then have their own seeds as seedstock for the following year.
Another early topic had to do with calculating the level of THC in a hemp sample. Keep in mind, to qualify as hemp a plant must have less than .3% THC, but the question came up: how is that calculated? The original language read: “Total Delta-9 THC concentration” means the total amount of the chemical compound, Delta9 THC, including the calculable amount of the chemical compound Delta-9 THC that would be produced during the chemical change of other cannabinoids.”
This implied that theoretical THC, based on other cannabinoids present in the plant could have been counted against total THC weight. At the suggestion of committee member Colleen Lanier, the committee edited the phrase to simply refer to the THC alone.
Preparing for Transition
The committee also had major discussion concerned the transfer of licenses. Was the license to be tied to the property or to the applicant. What if the applicant had a partner and wanted to withdraw from the license? Would the other partner get to use the license for the remaining year? In the end it was decided the license was tied to the applicant, not the property. If a different partner wanted to continue using the land, they would have to file their own application.
Records will be kept for five years and applicants will be responsible for controlling wild plants that sprout up around a field, known as volunteers. Growers will have to follow various guidelines including avoiding using any of the 350 federally prohibited pesticides.
Research licenses were a particularly interesting topic. Research license applicants will fall into two categories: non-profit and private. Those associated with universities and governments can apply for a research license and not pay a licensing fee. However, their research must be made available to the public.
Private research companies may keep their intellectual property to themselves but must pay the fee. Respecting the privacy of independent researchers, committee member Alex Holley fired off his obligatory f-word in their defense.
Since the program is starting mid-year, the annual license will be tied to the calendar year and expire on Dec 31, though new applications and renewals will be processed any time of year. After a first year in the program applicants can get two-year renewals.
Each application requires a DPS level one fingerprint card. Hemp program manager Brian McGrew was quick to clarify that the Dept. is not responsible for processing the fingerprint application. Applicants need to get the card wrapped up before sending in the application.
The question of who is licensed to store harvested unprocessed hemp also proved a significant topic. In the end, storage will be allowed by both the farmers and the processors. All locations will be required to comply with all local zoning and post signage.
The reporting provisions got their own section of the regulations. Testing labs that find a “hot” hemp samples (those over .3% THC by dry weight) are required to report it to the state within 72 hours. Growers may not remove hot hemp from their property until it has been remediated. While the only current acceptable methods of remediation are destroying the entire plant or stripping all the leaf and floral material and sterilizing the seeds.
Growers who repeatedly raise hot hemp or violate other provisions of the hemp program will not only face fines ($1000 for the 1st offense, $2500 for the 2nd offense and a whopping five grand for a third offense) but could also lose their hemp license and face criminal marijuana charges.
The Road Ahead
After the committee approved the regulations package 2 hours in and a short break, McGrew took the remaining audience through the future of the regulations process. First step, AZDA director and legal team will review the document to give it their seal of approval. The Dept Advisory Council will also give it a look. After that the regulatory passage gets prepared as an “exempt rulemaking docket” for the Secretary of State’s office to be written into state regulatory code.
Once the program starts June 1, the committee’s work still isn’t over. They will have till Aug. 3 to complete the programs rules and help prepare the permanent hemp council which will supervise the program. Committee chair Dwayne Alford expects there will be correction to be made and is prepared to adjust the fee schedule according to the number of applicants for the program. For more info on AZ’s new program check out the Dept. of Ag’s Industrial Hemp home page or review their guideline document here.
–Mikel Weisser is the editor of Arizona Cannabis Monthly and state director of AZ-NORML.