In 2018, the Federal Government passed the Farm Bill, which (among other things) legalized the cultivation of non-psychoactive hemp for industrial uses. While the law ultimately allows states to determine for themselves whether hemp agriculture would be permitted within their borders, only two states have continued to oppose cannabis in all its forms. Fortunately (for once) Arizona was not among them.
Arizona’s Industrial Hemp Program has been active since 2019, and farmers within the state have happily complied with the rules and regulations to bring up profitable hemp crops. But, what are those rules and regulations — and how can a farmer legally begin cultivating their own cannabis? Read on to find out.
The most important regulation for hemp farmers, by far, is the THC content of their crop. In the 2018 Farm Bill — otherwise known by its more formal name: the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — U.S. Congress stipulates that the term “hemp” applies only to cannabis that has no more than .3 percent THC, and industrial hemp with such low THC content is no longer considered a schedule I controlled substance. Thus, Arizona hemp farmers need to understand the differences between hemp and marijuana, which they can read more about here:https://weedmaps.com/learn/the-plant/hemp-vs-marijuana/.
Unfortunately, it is easy to demand that farmers grow low- or no-THC hemp than it is for farmers to adhere to these guidelines. The amount of THC within a cannabis crop isn’t always easy to predict; even hemp seeds produced from low-THC plants or clones of existing hemp crops can develop high THC content — or, in industry parlance, “go hot.”
There are many cases of farmers who diligently sow what they fully believe to be a cannabis crop within legal limits, only to discover that they are committing a serious federal crime with their marijuana fields. Upon testing above .3 percent THC, hemp crops must be thrown away, and the farmer’s investment in the crop — from the seeds to the soil, fertilizer, water, pest control, and more — goes to waste.
Ultimately, researchers aren’t entirely sure why certain hemp crops go hot, and funding is necessary for more research. Early findings indicate that environmental variables, like temperature or sunlight, don’t have an effect on THC levels; instead, genetics play a dominant role. Even so, farmers need to be especially careful with their crop, avoiding any sort of stress that might develop THC, and harvesting early to prevent excess THC from emerging. Here’s a look at some of the best hemp growing advice available today: https://www.hempgrower.com/article/how-prevent-hemp-crop-going-hot-thc-threshold-percent/.
Arizona farmers interested in growing hemp need to apply for a license through the Industrial Hemp Program. Applications ask for business and contact information as well as for applicants’ fingerprints. In receiving a license, farmers agree to allow the Arizona Department of Agriculture inspectors into their hemp fields and submit any requested records for inspection. In addition to the application, prospective farmers need to read and submit a few supplemental forms, which detail the terminology of the program — e.g. how a grower differs from a nursery — and provide further details.
Those farmers who do become licensed to grow hemp must remain in close contact with the program, submitting reports when they are preparing to plant, planting, intending to harvest, intending to transport, processing, or destroying their hemp crops. It seems like an unbearable amount of red tape — because it is.
The Arizona Industrial Hemp Program is designed to dissuade the casual hemp farmer or average homeowner from trying to use the program to grow psychoactive marijuana. State regulators need to be able to verify that cannabis crops are legitimate and handled appropriately, which is why so much paperwork is involved. All application and reporting forms can be found on the Arizona Department of Agriculture website, at this link: https://agriculture.az.gov/plantsproduce/industrial-hemp-program/industrial-hemp-license-applications.
It isn’t easy to be an Arizona hemp grower. Though cannabis loves our dry air, it isn’t too fond of the heat and hard soil. Though there is plenty of sunshine, the growing seasons for outdoor hemp are brief, and maintaining indoor spaces through the brutal summer can be expensive. Still, hemp growing operations are already flocking to the Grand Canyon State thanks to its relaxed hemp program, and the state is likely to see a hemp boom in the coming years.