For industrial hemp enthusiasts, the passage of SB 3, the Research on Industrial Hemp bill, during the 2015 legislative session, was a short-lived victory when Gov. Susana Martínez vetoed it. Proponents have continued to promote hemp for economic development, citing its more than 10,000 industrial applications, along with the state’s favorable climate for growing the hardy plant and its water-conservation benefits.
The 2016 legislative session hemp cadre included area military veterans led by Rural Coalition organizer Jaime Chávez; community and land grant activist, Jerry Fuentes; community-development leader, Mikki Anaya; Doug Fine, New Mexico organic goat rancher and author of Hemp Bound; Santa Fe Hemp shop owner, Kathleen Savage; and businessman Lew Seebinger, owner of Seebinger Hemp in Albuquerque, and others.
Seebinger, whose company makes body products from hemp extracts, presented Gov. Martínez with a large gift basket of “made in New Mexico” products that he hoped would demonstrate the difference between products that can be legally manufactured from hemp, in contrast to its popular and well-known cousin, marijuana. Seebinger knew that enacting SB 3 would not have legalized the hemp industry. However, the bill, which was written with cooperation from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, met federal guidelines that allow hemp research under the 2014 Farm Bill, section 7606. The failure of the Legislature to override the governor’s veto hampers the state from participating in opportunities alongside the 28 states that currently have laws allowing hemp cultivation.
In spite of the absence of rules or regulations, some existing academic institutions, including New Mexico State University, Santa Fe Community College and the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, have expressed interest in studies ranging from seed research, food and nutraceuticals, to pharmaceutical grade CBD—a compound found in hemp—for potential epilepsy and cancer medicines.
Seebinger Hemp was one of four enterprises adopted by a business class at the Anderson School of Management. Several graduate students did an in-depth analysis of the enterprise and reviewed Seebinger’s business model. Their report, Crossing the Chasm with Seebinger Hemp, focused in part on the political obstacles that must be overcome for the industry to thrive.
The pro-hemp community continues to work toward legalization. Hope hangs on passage of state legislation in 2017 or passage at the federal level of S.B. 134 and its companion bill, H.R. 525, which would remove hemp from Schedule 1, where it is classified in the same category as marijuana. It remains to be seen whether the recent ascension by a Republican faction that opposed the governor’s delegates will result in any real change. According to citizen advocates, although the 2015 hemp bill received bipartisan support, in 2016 acrimony at the Legislature was so intense that one Republican who wanted to support industrial hemp research stated he was fearful of retribution, so he would not vote in favor of the bill.
Rancor was evident at the hemp press conference that took place at the Rotunda. Democrats also had a hand in sabotaging the hemp bill by introducing a second, competing bill that called for total legalization of both marijuana and hemp. The result was that the 2016 hemp bill, although it passed all of the committees to which it was assigned, never was allowed to come to the floor for a full vote. If there were any heroes in this saga, they were the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Bill Gómez (D-Las Cruces) and Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque). They were able to shepherd the bill through all the committees despite efforts to delay the bill and hasten its demise.
In fairness, it’s worth pointing out that the system of 60 days for a legislative session, and 30 days for a budgetary session, which take place in alternating years, does not provide sufficient time for the legislative body to address the business of the state or social issues effectively. As one popular adage states, “A government that governs least, governs best.” In New Mexico, we qualify halfway; our government does govern least, but it certainly doesn’t govern best.
Gloria Castillo is a member of the New Mexico Industrial Hemp Coalition, the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association and the New Mexico Farmers Union. firstname.lastname@example.org