March 2, 2015

Senate approves growing hemp for research purposes

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industrialhempA bill that would allow the growth of hemp for research and development purposes cleared the Senate on Monday afternoon.

The legislation would allow researchers, most likely at New Mexico State University, to grow hemp for research purposes. The legislation would also provide for the commercial growth of hemp if it is deemed legal by the federal government.

Hemp was previously outlawed on a federal level for all uses, but the most recent federal farm bill allowed the growth of hemp for research purposes.

Much of the debate was spent on a floor amendment by Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, who said that the bill should not anticipate the federal legalization of commercial growth of hemp. The amendment was ultimately defeated on a 23-18 vote.

Sharer ultimately ended up voting against the legislation.

Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, was concerned about the similarities between hemp and marijuana. She wondered at how easy it would be for law enforcement to differentiate between marijuana and hemp.

“There’s not a distinctive smell differentiation, they don’t look dramatically different and from 1,000 feet, unless you have those special cameras, apparently, you won’t be able to tell the difference,” Beffort said.

She said she was concerned that if marijuana becomes more widely available in New Mexico that children would be exposed to it, citing candy with marijuana in Colorado.

McSorley said that hemp was different than marijuana and that it lacks the amount of THC to give the user a high. He said that farm groups backed the bill, knowing that hemp is safe and useful.

“This plant is not a threat to our children,” McSorley said. “I put our faith in our farmers who want to grow it.”

McSorley was confident in a short interview last week that Congress would pass a law legalizing the commercial use of hemp. He said not passing this legislation would put New Mexico behind a number of other states that have already passed such laws.

The bill had been changed a number of times throughout the Senate committee process and was even amended once on the floor. The bill received only one vote against passage in the three committees it cleared in the Senate.

The hemp legislation now heads to the House.

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