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Revised hemp growing bill heads to Senate

SANTA FE – Over the past two years, Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed three bills that would have authorized the growing of industrial hemp in New Mexico.

But state lawmakers are ready to try again, just three days after her last hemp veto.

A compromise proposal offered by a bipartisan group of lawmakers would allow the state Agriculture Department to oversee the growing of industrial hemp for research and development.

It’s strikingly similar to an earlier version, but Republican Rep. Rick Little of Chaparral said the sponsors made minor changes aimed at assuring the governor the bill won’t conflict with federal law.

Supporters of the bill said hemp is a drought-tolerant plant often imported from Canada, but New Mexico has the potential to produce and sell it.

“This is economic development for New Mexico,” said Rep. Bealquin “Bill” Gomez, D-La Mesa.

Gomez is a co-sponsor of House Bill 530, along with Little; Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque; and House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque.

The bill won approval 65-1 in the state House late Tuesday and now heads to the Senate.

Similar measures have already won approval in both chambers, only to be rejected by Gov. Martinez, who says hemp could interfere with law-enforcement efforts to address marijuana.

Hemp is related to marijuana, but with low levels of the chemical that can make someone high.

Supporters say authorizing hemp would create agricultural jobs in New Mexico. It can be used to make clothes, animal food and other products.

Maestas said the growing of hemp could some day rival the economic benefits of chile-growing.

“Within 10 to 20 years,” he said, “hemp will be our second biggest cash crop.”

A 2014 federal law allows universities and state departments of agriculture to begin cultivating industrial hemp for limited purposes.

The sponsor, Democratic Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque, said the bill would free up law enforcement and legal resources for more serious cases.
It won approval 64-1 and now heads to the Senate.

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