Almost a year after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a bill allowing New Mexico to study industrial hemp, other states have already made inroads toward making money from the crop.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, at least 27 states have enacted some sort of law regarding industrial hemp production since 2014, when federal legislation allowed states to enact such laws.
One person familiar with the federal law said New Mexico is significantly behind the curve. Zev Paiss, executive director of the National Hemp Association said other states have been making more advances in hemp production and that New Mexico would have to play catch up—even if the state passes a hemp law next legislative session.
“It’s safe to say [New Mexico] would be as much as three years behind other states,” Paiss said.
In her April 2015 veto message, Martinez said she rejected the Senate proposal because she saw contradictions between federal and state law, namely that hemp still contains THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana.
“This and other conflicts between state and federal law would unnecessarily complicate the task of law enforcement and the state Department of Agriculture of regulating the production of hemp,” Martinez wrote. “And, given the similarities between growing hemp and marijuana, this legislation could also create serious challenges for law enforcement in investigating drug crimes.”
Martinez did not respond to an email and phone message from NM Political Report regarding her current stance on industrial hemp.
State Sen. Cisco McSorley sponsored the measure. He has been a critic of Martinez and her policies since her first legislative session in 2011. He said the governor’s veto had “nothing to do with reality.”
The Albuquerque Democrat said Martinez made it clear that she was against the cultivation of hemp and that New Mexico will not likely see an industrial hemp market until after Martinez finishes out her current term.
“By the time she’s gone our farmers will have missed the chance to be on the ground floor,” McSorley said.
Even though other states like Colorado and Kentucky have already begun growing hemp in compliance with the Farm Bill, Paiss said the amount of hemp being produced so far is “very small.” Paiss added that the U.S. hemp market is just getting started—again. Hemp was once abundantly used and grown across the U.S until its production was outlawed in 1937—though the U.S. Army and Department of Agriculture encouraged farmers to grow hemp during World War II. Now hemp products, including food and clothing, are imported from other countries.
After the 2014 Farm Bill, many states adopted legislation that would allow growing hemp for research purposes. Paiss said Kentucky has already began selling small amounts of hemp fibers later woven into American Flags.
The National Hemp Association is now focusing on fully legalizing hemp on the federal level. Paiss said his organization is pushing two bills, one in the U.S. Senate and one in the U.S. House of Representatives, that would legalize hemp across the board. He said the group hopes either of the two bills pass by the end of the year, when the current Congressional term ends.
Some states already have laws in place in anticipation for the federal government to legalize hemp.
Paiss said there are 28 states that have some sort of law regarding growing hemp and, “about half a dozen of those states passed legislation contingent on federal law.”
This would mean hemp would become legal in those states at the same time the prohibition is lifted on a federal level.
Under current law, hemp would still be illegal in New Mexico even if the federal prohibition is lifted.
Hemp, by definition, has almost undetectable levels of THC. Still many New Mexico lawmakers questioned if hemp could produce a high when McSorley was pushing his bill last year.
Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming, a self proclaimed skeptic on hemp and a conservative Democrat, announced in a committee meeting last year that she was finally convinced marijuana is different than hemp.
“I just could not get it out of my head that you could smoke it,” Irwin told a sponsor of a similar bill. “There was no way I could support it, but you’ve finally got me.”
McSorley isn’t so optimistic about Martinez changing her tune. He sarcastically pondered if “maybe she thought she was smoking hemp once.”