February 18, 2015

Hemp bill gets positive response but no vote in committee

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An bill to allow a pilot program of growing industrial hemp was heard in a House committee on Wednesday, though no vote was taken.

Marijuana

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, presented his HB 357 to the House Agriculture, Water and Wildlife committee without any official debate, public comment or committee votes.

The bill would allow New Mexico State University and the Department of Agriculture to start a pilot program for industrial-use hemp. Maestas told the committee that he and committee chair Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, agreed to limit the meeting to discussion among committee members. Maestas said he made an amendment to the bill recently and wanted to give the committee time to review it.

One notable moment during the meeting was when Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming, announced that she had changed her mind on the subject of hemp. She told Maestas that in the past, she was hesitant about industrial hemp and its uses.

“You’ve finally broken me down,” Irwin said. “I just could not get it out of my head that you could smoke it. There was no way I could support it, but you’ve finally got me.”

Irwin, a conservative Democrat, has voted along with Republicans on a number of issues including a marijuana bill the committee had previously heard and voted against.

While Republican members generally expressed concern about whether hemp is a viable crop for New Mexico, they seemed open to the future possibility. Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, told Maestas that he is not completely on board with the growing of hemp, but acknowledged its potential.

“I think this will be a great thing for our state,” Wooley said. Wooley has been one of the most vocal opponents of legalizing marijuana or hemp in the state legislature.

Ezzell stressed that she wants to make sure that the pilot program is done carefully. She said she is concerned with the public’s perception of a hemp program.

“I do not want this to be construed as we have gone off the deep end,” she said. “This might be a very viable option, but I want to stress, I want to see the research done.”

Industrial hemp has become a bigger talking point during this legislative session after the federal government passed a measure that allows for pilot programs run by universities and state agencies.

According to a representative from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the department does not take a stance either way on the issue, but needs state lawmaker’s approval before a program can begin.

Since the committee did not take any action, the bill still remains in their control. Maestas said he would come back at the request of Ezzell to further discuss the legislation.

After the meeting, he told New Mexico Political Report that he is less concerned with his bill and more concerned with what happens when the federal government allows hemp production across the country.

“What’s left to be seen is if [Republicans] are willing to craft statue that would allow industrial hemp to be grown once the feds move it from schedule 1,” Maestas said, referring to the fact that hemp is classified the same as marijuana.

He said he was happy with the positive response he received from the committee.

The Senate bill equivalent of HB 357 is scheduled for the Senate Judicary committee after passing unanimously through Senate Conservation.

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