By Kristen Nichols
New Mexico has joined a growing number of states in allowing hemp production, but the new law is vague about when cultivation may begin and how the program will work.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the state’s hemp law went on the books Thursday, the result of a lawsuit between state legislators who approved the bill and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who vetoed it.
Under the new law, New Mexico State University will develop rules for growing hemp on behalf of the state Department of Agriculture.
But the law doesn’t stipulate how long that process will take, nor does it specify how many hemp growers will be allowed, how much they’ll have to pay in licensing fees or whether they’ll be allowed to make a profit from their crops.
Still, hemp supporters in New Mexico cheered the new law, which makes New Mexico the 32nd state with legal hemp production, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“I am glad for the farmers of New Mexico who are finally going to have a cash crop – it is long overdue,” bill sponsor Sen. Cisco McSorley said in a statement.
Growers ready to go
Those farmers say they’re optimistic New Mexico will establish hemp rules in time for them to produce a legal crop in 2018.
“It would be dozens (of farmers) in the first year, maybe even hundreds,” said Jerry Fuentes, a farmer who advocated for the bill as a volunteer with the New Mexico Industrial Hemp Coalition
Fuentes – who grows squash, corn and beans north of Santa Fe – said hemp offers farmers in his state immediate relief from low commodity prices for other crops.
“All of the farmers are interested and want to grow hemp because the price of cotton is really, really low,” Fuentes told Marijuana Business Daily.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy.
Gov. Martinez vetoed hemp bills passed in the state legislature in 2016 and 2017, citing legal uncertainty.
However, her veto was overturned by a New Mexico judge in August on a technicality, and the secretary of state enacted the law Thursday. The governor’s office has said an appeal may yet be forthcoming.
Feds may be an issue
One of the concerns in New Mexico stems from the state’s border status with Mexico.
The New Mexico Department of Agriculture warned in a legislative analysis about “challenges in handling, testing, and taking possession and transportation of cannabis-based material in the border area, particularly with regard to federally controlled customs and border patrol check points.”
The analysis prepared for New Mexico lawmakers listed the number of potential hemp growers in that state as “indeterminate at this time.”
Fuentes called the border fears unwarranted.
Hemp’s cross-pollination with marijuana – New Mexico legalized medical marijuana in 2007 – and has about 40,000 patients. makes it unlikely that the area would see illegal marijuana growers trying to use the hemp law as cover, he said.
“They’re going to know the difference between hemp and marijuana,” Fuentes said of U.S. border agents.
A hemp textile manufacturer in Taos said she fears New Mexico agriculture authorities may be slow to implement the plant’s cultivation, though farmers could be ready for a 2018 crop.
“We’ve already done all the research. Farmers are ready to grow it,” said Taos Hemp owner Ruth Fahrbach, who currently imports hemp fibers to produce her bags.
A hemp bill passed in neighboring Arizona remains unimplemented because of a veto in that state by Gov. Doug Ducey.
Ducey told the Arizona Daily Sun he doesn’t oppose hemp legalization, but he vetoed the Arizona hemp measure because it provided no money to implement hemp oversight.
Kristen Nichols can be reached at [email protected]