By Kelly Lotz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday Apr. 9, 2002
PHOENIX - Arizona universities may be among the first in the nation to get a program to study and develop industrial hemp, if a bill passes the Legislature.
The bill would enable university officials to research the profitability of industrial hemp, but only if private funding were made available.
Hemp, which is in the same plant family as marijuana, is a federally controlled substance that is illegal under Arizona's drug laws. But with its oil-rich seeds and tall, fibrous stalks, hemp is also used worldwide to make paper, cloth, food, cosmetics and medicine.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Darden Hamilton, and other supporters, said positive research showing industrial hemp's benefits could help make it legal in the state.
"Industrial hemp is a high-fiber produce that can be used for a number of things. It could be profitable for farmers in Arizona if it was legalized," said Democratic Sen. Herb Guenther.
Bob Roth, resident director of the Maricopa citrus and agricultural centers, a branch research center for the University of Arizona College of Agriculture, said UA would be a good place to grow industrial hemp.
"If you were to grow hemp, this is the site we would grow it in," he said. "If it becomes available, we definitely have the people who have the expertise to grow it."
Guenther said the Drug Enforcement Administration opposes domestic hemp cultivation because hemp looks too much like marijuana and could be used by pot growers to hide illicit marijuana.
"Most people are too concerned with confusing marijuana with industrial hemp," Guenther said. "That's why law enforcement generally opposes it, because it could complicate their jobs if it became legal."
He said he is sponsoring the bill because he hopes to eventually give farmers a cash crop but needs university researchers to take the first step.
"If farmers don't know what profitability is going to be associated with the crop, they aren't going to be interested in doing experimentation on their own," he said. "That's why we need universities to conduct studies first."
He said Canada seen had mild profits in growing industrial hemp.
"Our climate is ideal to support industrial hemp, because it appears to grow in warmer climates. Yet no study has been done. I think the problems with discerning between regular marijuana and industrial hemp can be easily overcome."