Without a word of explanation, Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday vetoed a proposed research program intended to clear the way for an industrial hemp industry in New Mexico, a key plank in the economic plan announced by Democrats in the Legislature at the outset of the 2017 session.
Republican Martinez’s action could mean the end of the push to start a research program administered by the state Department of Agriculture.
“With the stroke of her pen, the governor just killed countless jobs and new economic opportunities in New Mexico,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in written statement. “The hemp industry has been a booming success in at least thirty other states. This common sense job-creating legislation would have been a giant step forward for New Mexico’s farmers and entrepreneurs.”
Another sponsor, Rep. Bill Gomez, D-Las Cruces, said, “Our farmers and agriculture sector have the most to lose by the governor’s veto because hemp is a low-cost, low-effort crop that offers high rewards.” Industrial hemp uses half as much water as wheat and a quarter as much as alfalfa.
The last chance for hemp legislation is Senate Bill 6, which is similar to the vetoed bill. It passed the House on Tuesday. The Senate on Wednesday morning agreed to some amendments and sent the bill to the governor’s office.
While governors often use veto messages to explain the reasons for rejecting a bill, in this case Martinez simply said she had vetoed House Bill 144 pursuant to her authority under the state constitution.
In 2015 Martinez offered a lengthy explanation for vetoing a previous industrial hemp bill. The governor, who spent 25 years as a prosecutor before being elected governor, said she believed the 2015 proposal could complicate police drug investigations because hemp, a cousin of marijuana, resembles and smells like the plant. Industrial hemp, however, has just a fraction of the intoxicant THC found in marijuana.
She also said wrote “Any permission to cultivate hemp for commercial purposes under this legislation would, of course, also be contrary to federal law.”
The sponsor of the current Senate bill, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said Wednesday that his bill is different enough from the House bill that Martinez might sign it. “My bill addresses all the concerns she raised with [the 2015 bill],” he said.
McSorley’s current bill eliminated any mention of possible commercial hemp activity, which was in the 2015 measure, he said. It includes a provision for training police officers to be able to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.
McSorley’s bill received more support from Republicans than the House bill because it stays closer to the terms laid out in the federal farm bill, focusing more on the research aspect. He said his bill, which he said was written with the help of the state Department of Agriculture, “literally quotes the federal farm bill word for word.” The federal farm bill of 2014.
The farm bill removed industrial hemp grown for research purposes from the Controlled Substances Act. Since then, 32 states have approved legislation similar to McSorley’s bill allowing hemp research. Other states are considering such legislation.
Industrial hemp is used in a wide array of products, including clothes, cosmetics, food and fiberboard.