A bill that would make it legal to cultivate hemp so researchers can study possible industrial uses is headed to the Senate floor.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday voted 8-2 for a do-pass recommendation for Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque.
McSorley sponsored a similar bill two years ago that passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan support but was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez, who said it could be confusing for law enforcement because hemp is basically the same plant as marijuana but with a much lower level of the intoxicant THC.
“When I started doing these bills a few years ago there were only six or seven states that had [passed hemp research legislation],” McSorley told the committee. “Now there are 32. This is a jobs bill, especially for rural areas. Hemp is a crop with a high cash value and low water use.”
He said hemp could lead to a “manufacturing and agricultural renaissance” in the state.
The bill calls for the state Agriculture Department to issue licenses to grow the fibrous plant for research and development as well as commercial purposes. The bill would require New Mexico State University to establish a fund using fees collected by the Agriculture Department. The money would not revert to any other fund at the end of a fiscal year.
In recent years, industrial hemp bills have been popular with members of both Democrat and Republican parties — especially GOP lawmakers from rural areas. Last week the Senate Conservation Committee unanimously endorsed McSorley’s bill, while the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee unanimously passed similar legislation, House Bill 144, sponsored by Rep. Bill Gomez, D-Las Cruces.
However, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote Monday was divided along party lines. Both Republicans present — Sens. Bill Payne of Albuquerque and Greg Baca of Belen — voted against it.
Payne raised concerns about an amendment added by the Senate Conservation Committee that would allow growing for commercial purposes as well as for research and development. McSorley said that even with that amendment the legislation would comply with federal law.
Baca asked whether hemp growers would be able to grow plants with higher levels of THC than the .3 percent level spelled out in the hemp bill. McSorley said the Department of Agriculture would come up with regulations to ensure compliance.
“The department asked us not to micromanage in the legislation,” he said.
The House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee is scheduled Tuesday to consider two other industrial hemp bills, both sponsored by Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral.
Little told The New Mexican on Monday that he hopes to see production of hemp lead to manufacturing jobs in New Mexico. “We already import it from Canada,” he said. Why not grow it here?”
The neighboring state of Colorado produces more than half of the industrial hemp in the U.S.
One of Little’s bills, HB 166, would exempt hemp from the state Controlled Substance Act. The other, HB 154, would authorize the Agriculture Department to issue permits to individuals to cultivate industrial hemp.
However, a fiscal impact report quotes the Attorney General’s Office as saying that language included in HB 154 might not comply with federal rules.