The crease between Gov. Susana Martinez' eyebrows has been deepening over the last few days. They say she's made history.
Last year, the good governor put on her best gangster face and vetoed 145 bills—over half of what was approved by the legislature. This followed a hot 60-day session involving a back-and-forth between Martinez and lawmakers over the state budget, giving credence to the theory that it was all revenge.
That summer, a handful of Democratic lawmakers responded with a lawsuit against the governor alleging that she violated state law by failing to provide explanations for 10 of the vetoes. A legal battle ensued that eventually led to the state's Supreme Court, where it unanimously ruled against Martinez last week, effectively making those 10 laws a reality. She's reportedly the first governor to ever suffer the honor.
And nestled among those bills like a pair of bunnies were two laws related to hemp production that have the potential to bring about a real change in this state.
The first bill was House Bill 144, sponsored by Rep. Bealquin Bill Gomez, which allows for hemp research to be conducted at the state's universities and establishes a fund for hemp research. The second bill was Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, which calls for the Department of Agriculture to issue licenses to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. It also promises to train police on recognizing the difference between cannabis and hemp plants—supposedly the reason Martinez is against hemp legalization.
Neither of the bills legalize commercial hemp production. Right now, the focus seems to be on studying the plant and educating state officials. Unfortunately—as usual—we're already playing catch-up with the rest of the country. As of last year, 38 states have legalized some form of hemp cultivation (for either commercial or research programs). That's the vast majority of the nation moving forward with an inevitable cash crop while we've been hemming and hawing.
And get this: Last week, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intentions to attach language used in a hemp legalization bill he introduced last month to this year's Farm Bill (which sets national food and agriculture policy). He famously included protections for state-sanctioned industrial hemp research programs in the 2014 Farm Bill (which has been incorrectly used by enthusiasts and advocates to defend the legality of commercially sold CBD extract—which is totally illegal by the way, despite your budtender's well-meaning claims to the contrary).
The bill McConnell introduced earlier this month that the Farm Bill will be borrowing from would distinguish hemp from cannabis on the federal level and remove it from the list of drugs banned by the Controlled Substance Act, opening the door to commercial cultivation. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, as it's called, would allow US-grown industrial hemp to be certified USDA organic (a kindness extended to Canadian hemp already), allow hemp farmers to use the same banking system as everyone else, allow them access to public water rights and protect all the varieties of hemp products available by making a “whole plant” definition of hemp (instead of only allowing the use of the non-leaf portions).
The bill explicitly defines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tertahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” For the layman: Hemp is cannabis with a THC percent of 0.3 or less. If passed, the bill would legalize all manner of hemp products, including hemp-derived CBD extracts and everything else under the sun.
The bill was pushed through to the Senate floor by McConnell, who used his position as majority leader to bypass the committee process, but he has yet to schedule a vote. In an interview with WKDZ radio in Kentucky, he said to expect the Farm Bill in May.
If that happens, then these two state bills that finally became law will hardly mean anything, and history will have shown Martinez to be the dope who blocked hemp research for a year—either because she was worried that cops wouldn't be able to tell the difference between it and the dreaded cannabis, or because she wanted to stick it to the Legislature. That's a whole year where we would have been ahead of at least a few other states. Why was that so much to ask—to not be in last place just once?
I'm trying to pretend the governor isn't a real person at the moment. It's the only way to keep my vile liquid hate from spewing out of every orifice and drowning this town in a torrent of bilge. I keep telling myself her tenure will only be a faint memory in a few months. But it's hard, friends.
Yes. And despite Martinez' best efforts, reason finally bashed through and let in a little light. I suppose we should be happy for any victory, even if it ends up being one of principle only.
I really should be having a better month.