About 150 people gathered in an Expo New Mexico building in Albuquerque on Wednesday to hear about rules for manufacturing, storing and extracting hemp products that go into effect next week.
The meeting was the third, and final, part of a series of meetings the New Mexico Environment Department held over two weeks.
Unlike most public meetings held by state departments on proposed rules or rule changes, the public was not given a chance to give input or suggest changes. Instead it was purely informational.
“This meeting is for us to explain what the rules will be for the next six months in the state of New Mexico,” Hemp Program Manager Johnathan Gerhardt told the crowd.
That’s because there’s hemp almost ready to be harvested in the state before rules to outline permit requirements or guidelines on how to label, transport or store it exist. So the department implemented emergency rules and invited stakeholders to come and ask questions. The informational meeting blitz began on July 16 and the emergency rules official go into effect on Aug. 1.
Environmental Health Bureau Chief Bill Chavez told NM Political Report the department didn’t have enough time to go through a traditional rulemaking process after the legislature passed and the governor signed an industrial hemp bill.
“We found out after the bill was signed that there was already growing of hemp occuring and it was going to be ready to be harvested and manufactured into products as early as August or September,” Chavez said.
Everyone in the crowd stuck to the ground rules and only asked questions instead of issuing speeches to make their point.
Smaller farmers have concerns
But not everyone could attend.
Hemp farmer Bob Boylan, whose farm is about 30 miles east of Albuquerque, said he was too busy tending his crops to attend the meeting.
For years proponents of legalized industrial hemp have praised the plant for its reportedly numerous benefits—including the ability to bolster the state’s economy. With both state and federal law opening the doors for growers and manufacturers, some New Mexicans are well on their way to start growing the non-psychoactive relative of cannabis. But, some of those new hemp farmers say it could be at least a year before the state sees a significant hemp market. Since legally growing and cultivating hemp is still new to the state, current licensed growers who spoke with NM Political Report can’t say for sure when their crops will be ready or how well they will perform in the state. But all of them said they expect hemp to be a viable crop within several years.
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.
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.”
When Mikki Anaya worked as the executive director of the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for farmers and ranchers, she became acutely aware of what she characterized as a troubling trend in New Mexico. “A lot of families no longer farmed or ranched land that had been in our families for many generations,” Anaya said. “It deeply saddened me to see that transition happening.” Anaya started to study the dynamics of the change and concluded that economics were a root factor. “A lot of it is that people are just leaving our rural communities because there’s no economic opportunity there,” she said.
The New Mexico Senate, by a lopsided bipartisan majority, passed a bill Tuesday that would make it legal to cultivate hemp so researchers can study possible industrial uses. The legislation goes now to the House of Representatives, where other industrial hemp bills also are being considered. Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, which cleared the Senate 37-2, is identical to a McSorley hemp bill that passed the Legislature two years ago with strong bipartisan support but was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. The governor, in her veto message, claimed it could be confusing for law enforcement because the fibrous plant is basically the same plant as marijuana but with a much lower level of the intoxicant THC. McSorley on Tuesday repeated his insistence that “Industrial hemp research begins the process of bringing needed manufacturing and agricultural jobs to our state.”
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.
Last year, State Sen. Cisco McSorley worked to get a hemp bill through the committee process in each chamber. The legislation passed in a very different form from the beginning of the session after advice from legislators, Department of Agriculture staff and stakeholders. Then Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed it, saying there were inconsistencies between it and federal law. The Albuquerque Democrat is coming back with the legislation for a second year, with a quick stop in front of the interim Courts, Corrections and Justice committee on Wednesday as the beginning of the effort. The committee endorsed the legislation, though it’s unclear if Martinez will put the legislation on the call and allow discussion in the short session.
There won’t be any research into the growth of hemp for industrial purposes in New Mexico anytime soon. Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation that would allow the growth of hemp for industrial purposes on Friday, the final day to act on legislation. Martinez’s executive message said that there were inconsistencies between the bill and federal language that mentions hemp. Senate Bill 94 poses a number of problems as a result of the contradictions it would create between state and federal law. As just one example, federal law classifies tetrahydrocannabinol as a controlled substance where hemp products designed for human ingestion are concerned.
A bill that would allow research into the growth of industrial hemp passed the House and is now headed to the governor’s desk. The House passed the bill on wide bipartisan vote, 54-12. There was very little debate on the bill that would allow New Mexico State University and the state Department of Agriculture to grow hemp for research purposes. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, carried the bill on the floor. He had carried a similar bill on the House side.