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Friday March 9, 2001

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Senate committee rejects legal hemp, but would let ASU study uses

By The Associated Press

PHOENIX - A proposal to legalize industrial uses of the marijuana plant hemp went up in smoke yesterday, but state lawmakers are still considering whether to let Arizona State University study its agricultural production.

Sen. Darden Hamilton, R-Glendale, submitted an amendment that would have changed a bill regarding the transportation of groundwater to one legalizing industrial hemp production, possession and use. It also would let ASU conduct the study.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee stripped the legalization portion out of the bill and passed the study provision on a 7-0 vote. The revised bill now moves to the Rules Committee before action by the full Senate.

"I see total merit in the study at ASU," Sen. Elaine Richardson, D-Tucson, said. But Richardson said she was not interested in changing the legal definition of marijuana to allow possession of hemp.

Hemp supporters say the plant can be used to make paper, clothing, rope and more. They presented committee members with an American flag, soap, candles and other products made from hemp.

"This is not about medical marijuana or the recreational varieties of hemp," said Noel Hebets, an attorney for Mesa-based Fuel and Fiber Company.

While hemp is a marijuana plant, it has a lower level of the chemicals that make other varieties popular as a drug.

"Some of the unsmokeable stuff may hit the streets and some people get ripped off, but not the other way," Hebets said.

There are 30 countries that grow hemp for food, fuel and other products, Hebets said.

"They do not have the problem with the illegal side that we do. Maybe we're doing something wrong," he said.

Prosecutors opposed legalizing hemp, arguing the change would blur the lines regarding prohibitions on drug use and create enforcement problems.

"Yes it's a low percentage, but marijuana with this low percentage (would have been) legalized," Special Assistant Maricopa County Attorney Jerry Landau said.

"This can be smoked," he said, noting that the concentration of drug chemicals in hemp is close to that of the pot smoked in the mid-70s. "This drug should not be legalized in Arizona."