March 11, 2015

House committee passes hemp growth legislation

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A bill that would allow the growth of industrial hemp for research purposes passed unanimously through a House committee on Wednesday morning.

industrialhemp

The House Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee committee, made up of mostly Republicans and moderate Democrats, heard Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, present his case for SB 94.

The bill would allow New Mexico State University and the state Department of Agriculture to study the viability and logistics of growing industrial hemp.

Republican members voiced their reluctance to vote for the bill.

McSorley told the committee that it his bill is important to New Mexico and the agricultural industry in order to stay competitive in many markets.

“It would be a tremendous asset to farmers to be able to grow this crop,” McSorley said. “The important thing to remembers is Hemp is being grown throughout the rest of the world.”

Committee Chair Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, asked the bill’s sponsor about market demand for hemp and whether the Las Cruces university could actually handle the reasearch physically and financially. She also raised concerns that there would be a public assumption that hemp research is closely tied with recreational marijuana.

“There will be a public outcry,” Ezzell warned.

McSorley along with Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte told Ezzell and the rest of the committee that part of the research process would be determining what kinds of equipment and funds are need to conduct further research.

Ezzell said she was also concerned with hemp plants possibly becoming marijuana plant. In a previous HAWWC committee, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, presented his House version of the Hemp Act and told members that a hemp plant can actually reduce the psychoactive substance in neighboring marijuana plants.

Ezzell said she has since found evidence to refute that claim. Witte and other representatives from his department explained to Ezzell that hemp and marijuana can cross pollinate but the effects on THC, the psychoactive substance, would mutually affect both plants. Witte’s staff added that marijuana growers do not want hemp near by because it lessens the potency.

As was the answer to many questions by Ezzell and the committee, Witte and McSorley reiterated that the bill would simply allow state to conduct research on the plant. They both said the Department of Public Safety and the Drug Enforcement Agency would need to have input as to what happens if a hemp crop transforms into marijuana.

McSorley also added that his intention was to make sure New Mexico was in compliance with the Federal Farm Act, which allows the study of hemp, but also that Witte’s staff was in full control of research.

“I tried to leave this all to the Department of Agriculture,” McSorley said.

He admitted that he has had a big push from residents of his Senate district.

McSorley’s Industrial Hemp Farming Act will still need to pass the House Judiciary Committee and the House Appropriations and Finance Committee before it goes to the House floor and finally Governor Martinez’s desk for a signature or veto.

Martinez has not publicly taken a stance on industrial hemp and her office was unable to be reached by New Mexico Political Report. Her office told the Santa Fe Reporter they have not reviewed McSorley’s bill.