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Senate OKs bill for industrial hemp

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Senate has given a thumbs-up to allowing farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp for research only.

The Senate voted 33-8 Monday to approve Albuquerque Democrat Sen. Cisco McSorley’s legislation.

The federal government currently allows growing hemp for research. A bill pending in Congress would approve cultivation for commercial production as well.

The state will be poised to capitalize on the drought-resistant plant as a cash crop once federal restrictions are lifted, McSorley said. Farming groups have supported the legislation because of ongoing drought in the state and hemp’s potential as a cash crop.

McSorley’s proposal would allow the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to set up regulations and fees for the processing of hemp for research and development, not for sale.

In voting against the bill, one senator said she was worried about the similarities in the appearance of hemp and marijuana. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Many products made from hemp, such as oils and clothing, are legal.

If the bill is approved by the House and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico will join at least 19 other states already producing hemp for research, supporters said. “If we don’t do this now, we’ll miss out on it,” said McSorley of potentially growing hemp for commercial sale.

Jerry Fuentes, a member of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Association and a vegetable farmer in Truchas, applauded the passage of the bill. Cotton farmers in the southern part of the state are eager to farm hemp, he said.

“It’s always been known as a high-value cash crop,” he said.

Currently, Fuentes said, the U.S. is importing half a billion dollars worth of raw hemp to be put into commercial products used in the country.

“Hemp has been villainized as being akin to marijuana, yet it has no psychotropic properties. It can’t get you high; it will not get you a buzz. You’ll get a headache. That’s about it,” he said.