SANTA FE, N.M. (March 8, 2017) – A New Mexico bill that would decriminalize industrial hemp took another step forward last week, passing an important Senate committee. Passage into law would set the stage for the people there to nullify federal prohibition on the plant in practice.
Rep. Rick Little (R-Chaparral) introduced House Bill 166 (HB166) on Jan 18. The legislation would simply remove industrial hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances. This would open the door for a full-scale commercial hemp market in the state by treating it like any other crop for farming.
HB166 would not require any license to grow hemp, and it would create no state regulatory structure. In short, the state would treat industrial hemp like other plants, such as tomatoes. By ending state prohibition, residents in New Mexico would have an open door to start industrial hemp farming should they be willing to risk violating ongoing federal prohibition.
Last month, the House passed HB166 by a 53-13 vote. On Friday, it cleared its first Senate hurdle, passing the Public Affairs Committee by a 7-0 vote.
Last fall, the Navajo Tribe has signed a resolution to grow industrial hemp on tribal lands. Legalization of industrial hemp in New Mexico would help facilitate tribal plans. They can proceed with or without state legalization, but eliminating a layer of state laws would certainly make the path toward developing a hemp economy smoother.
FEDERAL FARM BILL
Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”
…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.
In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, state legalization of hemp sets the stage to nullify the federal hemp ban in practice. New Mexico could join other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, California and others – that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.
While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, these laws clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state. As more states simply ignore federal prohibition, the likelihood of federal enforcement diminishes.
Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2 of 2015, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately nullifying the federal ban in effect.
HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP
According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.
During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”.
HB166 would represent an essential first step toward hemp freedom in New Mexico.
HB166 now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration. It must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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