NM Cannabis Future

Hemp is deeply embedded in our country’s history; in fact, it is the material that our Declaration of Independence was drafted on. It was notoriously grown by Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Taylor and Pierce. As of today, 30 countries in Europe, Asia, North and South America permit farmers to grow hemp. According to the executive summary on the One New Mexico website, “after an 8-year process of exploration, the State Legislature overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 94, a bi-partisan measure to allow New Mexico to join 22 other states in developing an industrial hemp program.”

So what is holding New Mexico back?

The answer has a bob-cut and gives little consideration for rational solutions: Gov. Susana Martinez. According to The Albuquerque Journal, Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 94 because “the legislation was problematic because it conflicted with federal law—since hemp is in the marijuana family—and could pose a challenge for law enforcement.” Even with these objections, her reasoning doesn’t seem valid enough to deny New Mexico of a versatile solution for New Mexico’s vast economical deficit.

As of the end of the 2016-2017 budget year on June 30, New Mexico was $131 million in debt. According to figures released at a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee, those numbers are projected to reach from anywhere between $300 and $500 million for the current budget year. This radical shortcoming demands an immediate solution.

Alan Webber, founder of One New Mexico, a non-profit organization that works to improve the future for New Mexicans, says the prospect of the hemp industry launching in New Mexico is “a horse that is ready to run.” Because of the state’s abundance of sun, shortage of water, reliance on agriculture and severe economical demand, hemp would thrive in such conditions and, being a multi-use and seasoned crop, could be used for rapid manufacturing of innumerable products like clothing or organic foods or paper, which would subsequently create vocational openings for the people.

“Let’s look at what New Mexico needs: we need jobs; we need people to have more ways of improving their income; we need people who are willing to stay on the land and farm and grow, that’s our heritage, that’s our history. We need to continue to maintain and preserve and protect our environment, and we need to find things that accomplish these goals simultaneously. The nice thing about hemp is that it fits that profile perfectly,” Webber says. “It will help people stay on the land. It will help people who want to start small manufacturing businesses and/or become entrepreneurs. It could become another vehicle for solar energy to be an industry that feeds into the hemp industry.”

He also sees it as a chance to brand New Mexican hemp that has distinctive qualities that differentiate it from competitors, just as Hatch Chile is nationally recognized and helps personify New Mexico’s unique identity. Webber believes there is a large market here for natural goods, and to ignore the copious potential benefits would be a failure on our behalf. “We are importing a significant amount of hemp from China and from Canada, and we are paying to bring that hemp here instead of growing it ourselves,” says Webber. “That, frankly, is just a missed opportunity.”

Webber was one of three panelist at a Nov. 14 meeting at Warehouse 21, held by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) regarding the legalization of marijuana in New Mexico. The hearing was the last of seven around the state, conducted by Emily Kaltenbach, senior director for DPA’s National Criminal Justice Reform Strategy and state director for DPA’s New Mexico Office; Jessica Gelay, DPA N.M. policy coordinator, and Alan Webber, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.  The three took turns discussing the subsequent economic and social impacts that the regulation of marijuana and hemp production could have on New Mexico, and the disadvantages are few.

From left to right: Alan Webber, Emily Kaltenbach, and Jessica Gelay lead the discussion on reform.

From left to right: Alan Webber, Emily Kaltenbach, and Jessica Gelay lead the discussion on reform.

The rejection of the hemp industry is not the only missed opportunity here. By legalizing marijuana, New Mexico could generate commerce and jobs statewide, encourage tourism, commerce, enterprise and investments, deliver increased revenue for state programs, expand crop options in the agricultural sector, and make our communities safer and potentially protect kids by providing them with honest drug education. The DPA predicts the income after just one year of legalization could be approximately $410 million, and by year five, the market could be worth more than $740 million dollars. These numbers are considering both the local consumers and the predicted influx of visitor consumers as a result of the legalization.

If you take a look at Washington—one of the first states to end marijuana prohibition in 2012—”they have saved millions of dollars by no longer arresting and prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses,” the DPA status report of 2015 reveals. “Meanwhile, violent crime rates have declined, thousands of people have been spared the harmful consequences of a marijuana arrest, statewide rates of youth use and traffic fatalities have remained stable, and state voters continue to support marijuana legalization.”

As for New Mexico’s neighbor state, it has reaped many of the same benefits. A status report on the Colorado says that “data released by the state Department of Revenue reveal that tax revenue from retail marijuana sales amounted to $40.9 million between January 2014 and October 2014, not including revenue from medical marijuana and licenses and fees.”

The proof of the economical and social advantages is consistent and substantial, and the DPA is hopeful that, with enough perseverance, New Mexico is moving in that direction.

Although pot is legal to purchase medicinally, the restrictions only allow a limited amount of conditions to be treated by medical marijuana. And despite the passage of decriminalization in the city of Santa Fe in August of 2014—thanks to the persistence of the DPA—city cops can still make arrests for the possession of small amounts (one ounce and under) because it remains a criminal offense on a county and state level. Basically, if detained, your fate will lie in the hands of the law enforcement officer and whether he chooses to abide by the city code or the state code. Although this subjectivity is discouraging, Jessica Gelay understands the importance of beginning change at the base and steadily working up the ladder. “We are starting to have the conversations we need to have so that we can move things at the state level, and then further, at the federal level,” Gelay says.

Councilman Ron Trujillo (left) was of those in attendance, and stuck around to speak with others about the issue.

Santa Fe City Councilor Ron Trujillo (left) was of those in attendance, and stuck around to speak with others about the issue.

The DPA’s call to action is this: get involved. Ways to do this are by educating yourself about the campaigns, laws, local allies, and looking at the resources provided on the DPA website in order to be fully informed and up-to-date on the initiative. For more information or to find out how to become directly involved, either visit the DPA New Mexico office at 343 E Alameda St, Santa Fe, NM 87501, email nm@drugpolicy.org, or call the office at 505-983-3277.