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NM Senate gives green light to industrial hemp bill

SANTA FE — New Mexico farmers and researchers would be able to grow industrial hemp — but not for commercial purposes — under a bill approved Tuesday by the state Senate.

The hemp bill, Senate Bill 6, would authorize the state Department of Agriculture to oversee the growing of hemp — outlawed now because it’s in the marijuana family — for research purposes.

The Senate voted 37-2 to approve the legislation and send it on to the House, where several similar hemp-related bills are pending.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, the sponsor of Senate Bill 6, described it as a first step toward what could eventually be a booming market.

“We’ll never have processing if we don’t pass the bill,” McSorley said.

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed an industrial hemp bill in 2015, saying it would have created contradictions between state and federal law and complicated the job of law enforcement officers.

A Martinez spokesman said Tuesday that the Governor’s Office has not yet reviewed this year’s legislation, which would be more limited in scope than the 2015 bill.

At least 16 states have legalized industrial hemp production for commercial purposes, and 20 other states have passed laws allowing research and pilot programs, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Some senators said during Tuesday’s debate that they would have liked to see the bill go further to allow sales and other commercial uses of hemp. An amendment that would have allowed for that was added in a Senate committee, but it was removed during Tuesday’s floor debate.

“I’m concerned that without authorizing the commercialization of hemp, we won’t see demonstrable economic gain,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who still voted in favor of the measure.

Two Republican senators cast the dissenting votes on the legislation: Senate GOP Floor Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales and Sen. Carroll Leavell of Jal.

Hemp can be used in various products, from clothing to food to insulation. While in the same plant species as marijuana, hemp plants generally have extremely low levels of the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana plants.