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Dems promote hemp as part of economic plan

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In this April 24, 2018, file photo, a hemp plant is pollinated at the Unique Botanicals facility in Springfield, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Democratic leaders in the state House said Monday that they will push this session to make hemp New Mexico’s next big cash crop as part of an effort to boost the state’s economy.

Their economic priorities also include lifting the state’s cap on film incentives, promoting renewable energy and legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults.

“These bills, we think, are going to be at the forefront of energizing our state’s economy,” House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told reporters Monday.

Any legislation that wins House approval, of course, would also have make it through the Senate to reach the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat. Democrats have sizable majorities in both legislative chambers.

House Republicans said the economic package put forward by Democrats isn’t the right approach.

“I don’t see anything here that helps at all grow New Mexico’s economy,” said Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho.

Instead, lawmakers should focus on combating crime and overhauling the state tax code to provide a safe, fair environment for businesses, he said.

Among the proposals Egolf highlighted Monday is House Bill 581, which would establish regulations allowing the manufacture of hemp products in New Mexico.

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said hemp has the potential to immediately rival alfalfa as a cash crop in New Mexico.

The growing of hemp is now legal throughout the country, he said, but New Mexico could position itself as a national leader by ensuring locally grown hemp can be sent to in-state manufacturers, who could turn it into clothes, CBD oils and other products.

The state, Lente said, has the right climate for hemp cultivation.

Hemp is a relative of marijuana, but with virtually none of the chemical that causes people to become high.

“Agriculture is the lifeblood of New Mexico,” Lente said Monday.

Egolf and other Democratic leaders said they will also push to lift New Mexico’s $50 million annual cap on film incentives, legalize recreational marijuana use for adults, and offer assistance to help workers transition to new jobs after the closure of the San Juan coal plant.

None of the proposals has passed the House yet.

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