Planting Seeds: Arizona’s New Hemp Commission Hones Regulations

By: Mikel Weisser, staff writer

In what is likely to be one of the biggest advances in Arizona agriculture this decade, last May, Arizona’s state legislature approved Industrial Hemp as an agricultural crop beginning August 2019. Arizona became the thirtieth (30th) State to adopt an industrial hemp program. To make the State program work, the AZ Dept of Agriculture created an Industrial Hemp Commission.  The Commission held its third monthly public hearing on Dec 7th to review and edit the 14-page set of proposed regulations that will shape the new program.

The 8-member commission, which includes one woman, one black man, and a Hispanic farmer who is a 5th generation Arizona cotton grower, is co-chaired by Dwayne Alford and Paco Ollerton, with the Dept. of Ag’s Industrial Hemp Program Manager who leads the Commission, Brian McGrew. The commission expects at least two more public meetings to finalize the document ahead of the program’s August 2019 rollout.

An estimated 40-60 people showed up for the meeting, including Land Use Managers from three AZ counties. The Dec 7th meeting primarily focused on seed protocols, the logistics of licensing certified growers, and reviewing state programs around the country to identify and adopt the best practices from states with functioning programs. The key question was what to do about hemp crops that are over the federally allowable limit of 0.3% THC. The general answer involved retesting questionable crops and destroying those that cannot pass the THC test. If a crop is determined to be above the THC limit, there will be a 10-day appeals process before the crop must be destroyed. In some states, stripped stalks and sterilized seeds can still be used.

Among other highlights: All hemp operations will need state licensing and the application will require maps and GPS coordinates for the facilities. Cultivation, processing, custom harvesters, and transportation services will be licensed separately, though growers can apply for licenses in those areas as well. Licensed growers will be required to pass a DPS fingerprint background check. First year licenses will last one year. Growers in good standing will then be able to renew for two-year licenses. Convicted felons and those with controlled substance convictions will not be eligible. At least one partner in a company will have to qualify as the “responsible party” or statutory agent.

Arizona’s Crop Improvement Association will be the responsible party for certifying that hemp seeds used for cultivation will produce plants that fall within the required limit of less than .3% THC. No transfer of seeds is permitted without Ag Dept approval, but after their first year, growers in good standing will be able to collect and reuse their own seed stock, provided the plants they were harvested from passed the testing standards. Samples will be taken from multiple locations within a field. The state will hire independent testing companies to test fields around the state. Growers are encouraged to do their own pre-testing. Portable test kits are already commercially available. Crops will have to be inspected on-site prior to transport. Growers will be required to cooperate with law enforcement for inspections as needed.

The program will allow for hemp seed oil and other hemp concentrate products. Medical cannabis patients with AMMA grow rights may choose to grow hemp for their personal use, but not as part of the state’s hemp market. No industrial hemp crops can be grown in residences or on land exclusively zoned as residential. No co-mingling of industrial hemp and medical marijuana crops will be allowed in cultivation or in processing to protect against cross-pollination or cross-contamination of hemp samples. Farmers who stop growing hemp will be required to monitor their former fields to prevent “volunteer” hemp plants from growing back, or along irrigation ditches or roadsides after the main crops are gone.

Meanwhile in Washington, Congress is preparing to include industrial hemp legalization in the 2018 Farm Bill which is expected to be voted on this month, before their holiday recess. If the federal farm bill, working its way through Congress, passes then AZ growers will be allowed to market their hemp and hemp-derived products nationwide. For more info check out the Dept. of Ag’s Industrial Hemp home page or review their guidelines here.

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