According to the National Conference of State Legislators, at least 30 states passed legislation related to industrial hemp. In New Mexico, state lawmakers learned in early December that the projected state budget will be $69 million short in the current fiscal year and revenue projections are down for the next fiscal year once again. New Mexico’s economy is highly dependent on oil and gas revenues. State Sen. Cisco McSorley pre-filled the measure for the upcoming legislative session in 2017, Senate Bill 6 to provide for the establishment of the New Mexico industrial hemp research and development fund. Hemp proponents have continued to promote hemp for economic development, citing its potential for thousands of industrial applications, along with the state’s favorable climate for growing the hardy plant and its water-conservation benefits.
With most state legislatures having taken action to promote industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity in recent years, it’s time for New Mexico to join those ranks. A wide range of products, including fibers, textiles, paper, construction and insulation materials, cosmetic products, animal feed, food, and beverages all may use hemp. The plant is estimated to be used in more than 25,000 products spanning nine markets: agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food/nutrition/beverages, paper, construction materials and personal care.
While hemp and cannabis products both come from the cannabis plant, hemp is typically distinguished by its use, physical appearance and lower concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp farmers and producers often grow the plant for the seeds and stalk. The plant is cultivated to grow taller, denser and with a single stalk. Marijuana, grown for the budding flowers, tends to be grown shorter, bushier and well-spaced.
Generally, states have taken three approaches: establish industrial hemp research and/or pilot programs, authorize studies of the industrial hemp industry, or establish commercial industrial hemp programs. Some states establishing these programs require a change in federal laws or a waiver from the DEA prior to implementation.
Hemp legalization for New Mexico in conjunction with the utilization of solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources would be a giant leap forward in breaking it’s dependence on the federal government and oil revenues. This will create jobs, has vast potential for the state universities to benefit, and creates a new business market to keep college graduates in New Mexico. In spite of the absence of rules or regulations, some existing academic institutions, including New Mexico State University, Santa Fe Community College and the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, have expressed interest in studies ranging from seed research, food and nutraceuticals, to pharmaceutical grade CBD—a compound found in hemp—for potential epilepsy and cancer medicines.
Legalization of industrial hemp in New Mexico would also help facilitate a Navajo Tribe resolution to grow industrial hemp. According to a report published in Forbes, the Navajo will work with CannaNative to develop industrial hemp farming. The organization assists tribes in developing hemp and cannabis-based economies on Native American lands throughout the United States. Navajo Tribal lands cover parts of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The farm where they plan to begin industrial hemp production is in New Mexico.
Such a move would be entirely legal; as a sovereign nation, the Navajo Nation would not need the approval of the New Mexico state legislature or the Governor to move into industrial hemp cultivation and the light manufacture of derivative products as an economic opportunity. The same opportunity applies to any pueblo in New Mexico that might want to explore it.
They can proceed with or without state legalization, but eliminating a layer of state laws would certainly make the path toward developing a hemp economy smoother. In April 2015, New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez vetoed a bill legalizing hemp production within the state. She cited contradictions between state and federal law.
In fairness, it’s worth pointing out that the system in New Mexico of 60 days for a legislative session in 2017, and 30 days for a budgetary session (which take place in alternating years) does not at all provide sufficient time for the state’s unpaid legislative body to address the business of the state or social issues effectively for the constituents they serve. As Thomas Jefferson or maybe Henry David Thoreau observed long ago, “A government that governs least, governs best.” In New Mexico, we qualify halfway; our government does govern least, but it certainly doesn’t govern best.
Up until recently, the federal government maintained almost complete prohibition on industrial hemp. While it was technically legal to grow hemp, farmers had to obtain a permit from the DEA, a nearly impossible task. Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”:
…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.
In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. Laws in these states ignore federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
Recent economic reports suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is at a minimum $600 million per year. Industry observers count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s number-one importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.
In February 1938, Popular Mechanics magazine featured an article called “New Billion-Dollar Crop” that proclaimed, American farmers are promised a new cash crop with an annual value of several hundred million dollars. Unfortunately, the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which had passed by the time the Popular Mechanics article appeared, saw to it that that wouldn’t happen. This much we do know- Industrial hemp makes too much sense for New Mexico to ignore the opportunity in Senate Bill 6. It does appear to be a unique fit for the state’s attributes and an immediate solution for at least some of the state’s economic needs.