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 that year, claimed it could be confusing for law enforcement because the fibrous plant is similar to marijuana but with a 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.”
His bill would authorize the state Agriculture Department to issue licenses to grow the plant for research and development. The proposal 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.
McSorley said the Agriculture Department and the university would be responsible for setting up regulations governing production of hemp by state farmers.
More than 30 other states have passed similar legislation. In Tuesday’s debate, McSorley said the state of Kentucky already has a robust hemp industry. Two of the biggest supporters of industrial hemp on the national level are Kentucky’s two Republican senators, GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul.
The state of Colorado currently produces more than half of the industrial hemp in the U.S.
Democrats in the Legislature consider establishing an industrial hemp program in the state part of their jobs and economic development package.
The two state senators voting against the bill were Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales and Sen. Caroll Leavell, R-Jal. Ingle, a farmer, said he didn’t believe the economic benefits touted by hemp advocates would come to fruition until processing plants are built in the state.
McSorley said, “We’ll never have processing if we don’t pass this bill.”
The House Labor and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to hear two hemp bills, House Bill 144, sponsored by Rep. Bill Gomez, D-La Mesa, and HB 154, sponsored by Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, on Wednesday.
Gomez’s bill is identical to McSorley’s, while Little’s is similar. Both bills recently got positive recommendations from the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee.