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Governor blew opportunity for hemp

Another legislative session, more missed opportunities by our elected officials who consider themselves to be leaders.

All of us who pay attention, and even many who don’t, know that New Mexico is languishing at the bottom of national rankings in multiple categories. Our undiversified economy is dangerously dependent on federal spending and the oil and gas industries, and is deteriorating fast.

State tax dollars are being spent out of state when they could be spent at home. Texas is making a legal play to siphon our water. Our crumbling infrastructure is getting little to no attention. Sequestration in 2016 could strangle the already diminished flow of federal dollars into our state.

And on what do our government leaders spend their latest session? On frivolous initiatives like making Daylight Saving Time permanent, the result of which would be to place New Mexico even further outside the mainstream.

I wonder at times, despite their words, whether these people we’ve elected truly want to move the state into the modern era or whether they’d prefer to move us backward into the prior century (or perhaps the one before that).

There was one promising development, when the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House came together to pass an under-the-radar but economically important bill related to industrial hemp. Despite the bipartisan support for the measure, the governor inexplicably vetoed the bill – and scuttled a promising new addition to the state’s economic portfolio.

The Industrial Hemp Bill, introduced by Democratic Sen. Cisco McSorley and overwhelmingly approved in the Republican House, would have allowed research – research! – into hemp as an agricultural product. Virtually noncontroversial and with no organized opposition, it would have required only about $100,000 in state money to set up a system for issuing licenses – mimicking the federal law passed in the bipartisan Farm Bill of 2014. Research would have been done in-state, at New Mexico State University, our very own agricultural university.

But now the bill is dead and New Mexico has missed another opportunity for homegrown – literally! – economic development. Because hemp:

• Has a value to farmers approximately twice that of alfalfa

• Requires only about half the water of alfalfa if the right species is cultivated

• Cannot be abused as a drug like its cousin marijuana

• Has the potential to bring more industry and thousands of jobs to New Mexico.

Just think of the manufacturing enterprises that could build factories here and employ people to process our hemp.

The list of industries is long, including paper, fiber for clothing and rope, biofuel and cosmetics. Did you know that the U.S. Declaration of Independence is written on hemp paper?

Approximately 20 states have already approved hemp legislation aligned with the federal statute with restrictions for growing the hemp plant.

One of the leading national proponents for growing hemp in the United States is Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican senior senator from Kentucky and the majority leader of the U.S. Senate. Surely his support alone would give Gov. Susana Martinez the political cover to approve this forward-looking law that could be hugely important to our economic future.

But no. She instead chose to ignore the benefits of the hemp bill for reasons that are unclear.

Is it because she was more interested in somehow “punishing” the bill’s Democratic author than in moving the state forward? Did she simply not take the time to read the bill and become educated? Is our state’s economy important to her? She says it is, but her actions do not seem to support her words. We may never know.

But we do know this: Unless we can find leadership with an economic vision that transcends politics, New Mexico will continue to fail.

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