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Legislators weigh bill to study hemp production

SANTA FE, N.M. — A Democratic New Mexico senator wants the state Department of Agriculture to adopt rules for researching and growing an industrial version of marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, introduced legislation Wednesday that could create the opportunity for farmers to grow hemp after a state study.

McSorley last year sponsored a bill aimed at legalizing the selling of hemp and licensing of farmers to grow the crop. That proposal would have established fees and set up state regulations for the distribution of hemp.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, vetoed a version of McSorley’s bill, saying the measure was inconsistent with federal law.

McSorley said he then made changes to the bill to address the governor’s concerns and recently wrote her a letter for her comments on it.

“China and India are growing hemp,” McSorley said, referring to it as a “great low-water crop.”

“The farmers (in New Mexico) are losing out,” he said.

The Governor’s Office has not said whether Martinez supports the new proposal.

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. But some law enforcement agencies have said marijuana growers could camouflage their illegal crops with hemp plants.

The 2014 federal Farm Bill included a provision that allows colleges, universities and state agriculture departments to cultivate industrial hemp.

More than two dozen states have passed measures that allow hemp cultivation or a study of the possibility. Proposals have generated bipartisan support.

In New Mexico, farming groups have supported the legislation because of a previous drought in the state and hemp’s potential as a cash crop. Hemp is drought-resistant.