If Signed, How Narrow Will State Interpret Hemp Law?

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One of the rare bills that cruised through both chambers of the state Legislature this session would allow the state to grow hemp for research purposes.

Based on how the state Department of Agriculture interprets the legislation, New Mexico farmers still may not be able to grow the plant for a while. Jessica Gelay, a policy coordinator with Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, says that based on her reading of the bill, nothing would prevent the Department of Agriculture, which is housed at New Mexico State University, from being able to contract with private farmers to grow hemp, so long as its tied to research purposes.

But Gelay says that during committee discussions, lawmakers spoke about only allowing the department to grow hemp.

"Certainly the discussions did not indicate they'd be licensing anyone but New Mexico State University," Gelay says.

The bill, which currently sits on the governor's desk, is based on the 2013 federal Farm Bill, which allows states to write their own laws to grow hemp for research purposes. Though that research must be tied to a university or an agriculture department, states like Kentucky also allow private farmers to grow hemp, as long as they're contracted with the state or a university.

Earlier this month, Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Katie Goetz pointed SFR to a federal Drug Enforcement Agency memo to Kentucky that appears to abide by a more conservative interpretation of Section 7606 of the 2013 Farm Bill.

"Only institutions of higher education and State departments of agriculture may be used to grow or cultivate industrial hemp," reads the letter, dated May 22, 2014. "Accordingly, it is the position of DEA that Section 7606 does not provide any authorization to private growers who are not institutions of higher education or a State department of agriculture within the meaning of Section 7606."

Gelay stresses, however, that the New Mexico hemp bill will give the state authority to write its own hemp rules if the federal government lifts more restrictions for growing the plant. That clears a path to commercial production of the plant without having to pass another bill in the state legislature.

Gov. Susana Martinez has remained mum on whether she'll sign the hemp bill, sponsored by state Sen. Cisco McSorely, D-Bernalillo. The bill passed both chambers with wide bipartisan support.

Santa Fe Reporter

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