March 11, 2017

Governor vetoes second bill on industrial hemp research

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Gov. Susana Martinez on Saturday vetoed another bill that would have established a research program for industrial hemp, a measure that legislators of both parties said could create enormous business opportunities for New Mexico’s farmers.

Martinez offered no explanation for her decision, which she announced in a brief statement.

Her veto of Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, came only three days after she vetoed a more sweeping bill on hemp research authored by members of the House of Representatives.

McSorley’s bill had cleared the Senate 37-2 and the House by a vote of 58-8. He had harsh words for Martinez after the veto.

“This is the difference between advocating between a 1980s drug war policy and the ability to govern a 21st century state. … If she wants to be a 1980s drug warrior, I’ll be happy when she leaves the state and is no longer governor,” he told The New Mexican.

Related: GOP senator starts process for overriding governor’s veto on teacher sick days

Martinez’s second and final term expires at the end of 2018.

Two years ago, Martinez vetoed a hemp research bill by McSorley that also had passed the Legislature with wide bipartisan support. One reason, she said at that time, was that police might have a hard time distinguishing hemp from marijuana, a related plant. Unlike marijuana, hemp cannot be used as a recreational drug because it has a far lower level of the intoxicant THC.

McSorley recently told The New Mexican he thought the governor might sign this year’s bill, which, he said, addressed all the concerns she raised two years ago.

McSorley’s recent bill eliminated any mention of possible commercial hemp activity, which was in the 2015 measure. It also contained a provision for training police officers to be able to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.

“We have farmers in desperate need of cash crops that use little water,” McSorley said Saturday. “I feel bad for the farmers because they are the ones that are going to suffer.”

Thirty-two states already have approved similar legislation for hemp research. Neighboring Colorado produces more than half the industrial hemp grown in the United States.

Hemp is used to make an array of products, everything from carpeting and briefcases to clothing and auto dashboards. These hemp-based products are assembled in China, Canada and Mexico, which then export them to the United States.

McSorley’s bill received more support from Republicans than the House bill because it stayed closer to the terms laid out in the federal farm bill, focusing on the research aspect of hemp. He said his bill, which was written with the help of the state Department of Agriculture, “literally quotes the federal farm bill word for word.” The federal farm bill was signed into law in 2014.

Despite the strong support for the bill in the Legislature, McSorley wasn’t optimistic about the prospects of lawmakers overriding Martinez’s veto.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “She has her thumb pretty hard on some members of the Republican caucuses.”

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/politics.

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