New Mexico state senate clears way for hemp crops

The United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop

As support mounts for a Senate bill in Congress that would legalize industrial hemp production by farmers across the nation, a growing number of state legislators are not waiting for Washington and have passed or currently are considering state legislation that would position farmers and production facilities within their state borders to quickly kick off hemp production once Congress gives the nod.

At last count, twenty states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia—currently have laws to provide for hemp pilot studies and/or for production as described by the 2014 Agriculture Act.

Under terms of that Act is a provision to allow institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp, but it also requires that the sites used by universities and Extension research be certified by and registered with their respective state departments of agriculture. The provision allows universities and agricultural departments to study industrial hemp for its possible use as a commercial product.

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Many state leaders, especially in states where agriculture plays an important role in the economy, say the latest farm bill doesn't go far enough. They point to a recent Congressional Resource Service report that indicates the "United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop while farmers in other parts of the world grow hemp commercially for fiber, seed, and oil for use in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including food and clothing."  

Widely grown elsewhere

The report lists over thirty countries that produce industrial hemp, including China, Slovenia, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Canada, Chile, Egypt, New Zealand, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Romania, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine.

Senate Bill 134, to "legalize industrial hemp cultivation and production," was filed and assigned to a Congressional committee on Thursday, January 8 (2015) by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

But legislatures aren't waiting. For example, the New Mexico State Senate gave a thumbs up Monday (Mar. 2) allowing farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp for research. While the federal bill would limit farmers to growing hemp only for research purposes, Albuquerque Democrat Sen. Cisco McSorley, who authored the state bill, says it may clear the way for New Mexico farmers to start growing hemp for profit.

The measure passed by a comfortable 33-8 margin.

In addition to New Mexico, Washington State approved hemp legislation in January that is broader in scope. By a unanimous 4-0 vote, a Washington State Senate committee approved a bill that would authorize the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp within the state, effectively nullifying the federal prohibition.

State Senate Bill 5012 was co-sponsored by State Sens. Brian Hatfield (D-District 19) and Jim Honeyford (R-District 15) and would open up the industrial hemp market in Washington State if successfully passed by the full legislature and signed by the Governor. It states unequivocally that “industrial hemp is an agricultural product that may be grown, produced, possessed, and commercially traded in the state.” This opens the door for an industrial hemp market to spring up immediately after the state bill becomes law.

Proponents for hemp as a farm crop say hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. They further argue that many products are made from hemp, such as oils and clothing, which are legal.

Bruce Perlowin, CEO of Hemp, Inc. of North Carolina, said hemp production in the U.S. would bolster agriculture nationwide and would give farmers a clean and profitable crop to grow.

Hopeful signs

"The latest U.S. Senate Bill (SB 134) is another step closer to full legalization. Industrial Hemp has really been taking off in the news lately, all over the country. This industry won't subside [until the successful] re-introduction of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013. That bill failed to pass, but that just goes to show you that you can't hold back the tide. The bill has been re-introduced and this time we are hoping that the Committee will push it through."

"The U.S. ban on hemp farming is an outrageous restriction on free enterprise and does nothing but hurt economic growth and job creation," Sen. Wyden said. "Our bipartisan, common-sense bill is pro-environment, pro-business, and pro-farmer. Congress must act to empower farmers and boost economic activity across the country."

The four senators who sponsored SB 134 represent states that have "already defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana and removed barriers to production." At the federal level, however, rules require industrial hemp research and pilot programs to obtain a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). If a waiver is not obtained, those programs risk possible raids and seizures by U.S. federal agents. SB 134 would, according to U.S. sponsoring lawmakers, "remove hemp from the Schedule I controlled substance list under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and would define it as a non-drug so long as it contained less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana."

"Allowing farmers throughout our nation to cultivate industrial hemp and benefit from its many uses will boost our economy and bring much-needed jobs to the agriculture industry," said Sen. Rand Paul.

Many supporters of the legalization of industrial hemp believe that SB 134 has a better chance of passing this year because more people are becoming aware of the difference between marijuana and hemp.

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