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What the Hemp? The Buzz on Industrial Hemp in Arizona

This article is about the current status of Industrial Hemp as a farm and nursery crop in Arizona. Any citizen over 18 with a fingerprint clearance card can now apply to grow hemp in Arizona, but the regulations and fees are barriers that may prevent hemp growing as a profitable or useful “backyard” crop. Sufficient land and irrigation water must be available. One must also consider the unique fees, costs, compliance, and oversight requirements. Read on to learn more.

In December 2018, President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which includes language that legalizes hemp across the United States. The bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is no longer an illegal substance under federal law. Hemp was formerly classified a Schedule 1 controlled substance – a category that includes such drugs as heroin and ecstasy. (1)

Uses for Hemp

Worldwide, hemp is used to make thousands of products, including clothing, skincare items, cosmetics, insulation, rope, animal feed, plastic alternatives, wood, paper, and food. Hemp can be grown for seed, fiber, and oils. An example is seed-derived CBD oil, which contains no (or very low) THC and is widely used for pain relief, anxiety, and insomnia.

Proponents believe that by growing hemp we can save the cutting of many trees, as hemp can make a stronger composite construction product than wood. Paper made from hemp can be of better quality and can be recycled more times than paper made from wood pulp, according to conservationist Andy Kerr of The Larch Company (2)

Hemp vs. Marijuana

While hemp and marijuana are both species of the cannabis plant (Cannabis Sativa L.), hemp is different due to its lower concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Consider regular beer and non-alcoholic beer as a comparison. Hemp is a cultivated sub-species that does not provide the psychoactive element (drug) as does marijuana.

Once hemp was removed from the controlled substances list by separating it from marijuana, each state has the option to develop hemp-growing programs. Arizona and at least 40 other states have enacted legislation to establish an industrial hemp program. In 2018, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that authorized the Arizona Department of Agriculture to license applicants to grow and process industrial hemp. Many expect that hemp farming can contribute positively to the state economy. Both hemp farms and the processing facilities needed to make hemp products are expected to grow.

Farmer/Grower Interest

Many Arizona farmers and nursery owners are interested in the potential of hemp. Hemp loves sunshine and tolerates heat well. It can be planted as a row crop, tolerates a wide variety of soils and temperatures, requires no pesticides, and grows extremely fast, soaring to as much as 20 ft in 100 days. Even better, its rapid growth may allow up to four cuttings per year, which could maximize crop yields. (3)

On the flip side, there is concern regarding the risk involved if the crop is tested and the results are above the maximum level of THC allowed. Even with a certified seed, unforeseen effects may result in a yield that contains more than 0.3 percent THC. What happens then?

"There are so many ways it might go," said Brian McGrew, hemp program manager for the Arizona Department of Agriculture. "Destruction of the crop, as some states have done if it tests over the limit. It’s all going to be based on what resources are available for the grower and the state, and what technologies might exist.” (1)

Paul Ollerton, a third-generation farmer who has just harvested his 38th cotton crop, and he’s cautiously looking to get involved with industrial hemp. “(The testing is) my biggest concern, because you’re going to end up with quite a bit of money per acre tied up in a crop,” Ollerton said. “And you don’t want to end up in a situation after you’ve put all the money into it and you’ve grown it, and 120 to 150 days later you’ve got to destroy it because you can’t get the THC levels where they need to be for it to remain as hemp.” (1)

Water Use

For some time, hemp has attracted the attention of environmentalists over claims of it being the new water-friendly crop. Lawmakers and conservationists have said that hemp uses less water than cotton. In a state with an ongoing drought where farmers struggle with not having enough water to farm all their acreage, implementing water-efficient commodities is critical. (1) However, there has not been significant research to verify the claims. Only since 2014 have laws allowed growing hemp for strictly research purposes, so many trials and experiments are still in progress.

In Colorado, farmers have been growing industrial hemp since 2014. The Colorado State University Extension published a paper that states, “Water use requirement information is difficult to ascertain on cannabis production in an outdoor setting. However, a variety of sources were examined, and the following water use requirements are the best-known information currently available:

Hemp: 12-15 inches per year

Corn 20-25 inches per year

Alfalfa 30-40 inches per year

Tomato 15-25 inches per year

Peach 30-40 inches per year

Hops 20-30 inches per year.” (4)

Abdel Berrada, a senior research scientist at Colorado State University who spent the past three years studying how the crop grows, said hemp might need less water than corn, but not by much. What he did find, though, is that hemp's water consumption varies by location. Because the Southwest doesn’t get much rain, farmers will have to use irrigation to get a decent yield, he said. (1)

Arizona's industrial hemp program was slated to start in August, but a bill signed into law by Governor Ducey on Feb. 20, moved the start date to May 31. The change was made so farmers could start planting hemp before the peak of the summer when temperatures are too high.

As of July 23, 2019, less than two months since the program began, Arizona public records displayed 116 hemp grower licenses have been issued by the state and another 32 nursery-grower licenses. (5)

Arizona Licensing Requirements and Fees

The applicant must:

  • be a U.S. citizen or documented worker over the age of 18

  • submit a fingerprint clearance

  • submit a license application(s) and pay the associated fees once the license has been approved.

  • growers must provide property maps with aerial/satellite photos showing the location of growing areas. (6)

Current license types and fees for an initial license (good through the end of 2019) are:

  • Grower - $1,500

  • Nursery - $1,000

  • Processor - $3,000

  • Harvester - $150

  • Transporter $150 (6)

If applicants conduct more than one of these activities, they must submit license applications and fees for each. The state has not yet published license renewal fees for 2020 and beyond. Costs are expected to pay for the program and oversight.

For more information on licensing, visit the Arizona Department of Agriculture website,

To review meeting minutes and audio files from the Arizona Industrial Hemp Program Rules Committee past meetings, visit


1. Wigginton, C. (2019, May 9). Arizona farmers can legally grow industrial hemp, but will they take the risk? Retrieved from:

2. Kerr, A. (nd) Potential of Industrial Hemp to Displace Fiber from Forests. Retrieved July 24, 2019 from

3. Weiser, M. (2018, May 16). Hemp Legalization Poised to Transform Agriculture in Arid West. Retrieved from:

4. Hammon, B., Rizza, J., and Dean, D. (2015, July) Current Impacts of Outdoor Growth of Cannabis in Colorado, Publication 0.308. Retrieved from:

5. Arizona Department of Agriculture. (2019) Industrial Hemp License Holders (click link near middle of page) Retrieved from:

6. Arizona Department of Agriculture. (2019), Industrial Hemp License Applications

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