Hemp was legalized nationally last year when President Trump signed the Farm Bill. It defined hemp as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC by volume and removed it from the federal list of controlled substances. It also meant a new market was open for the taking, and New Mexican investors are apparently dancing to get in.
Jeff Apodaca, who you may recall as a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and the only one to schmooze up the cannabis vote), threw the Albuquerque Journal this quotable line last week: “Pretty soon, when you talk about New Mexico, you’ll be talking about green chile, pecans and hemp.”
With its history of farming and agriculture, New Mexico is the perfect place for hemp companies to blossom and proliferate. Apodaca told reporters that he's developing a hemp business and has joined several partners in investing in other hemp-related businesses in the state. He called it a “gold rush.”
State leaders have signaled their willingness to facilitate the new industry with a set of laws that were overwhelmingly approved earlier this year that expanded hemp production and established “Centers of Excellence” at New Mexico institutions of higher education that will train students in hemp science. A bill providing for the regulation of production, testing, research, manufacturing and transport of hemp, hemp extract and hemp-finished products was also signed into law—the Hemp Manufacturing Act. In a press release, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said hemp would “play a key role” in the diversification of New Mexico's economy.
The legalization of hemp is obviously a boon to industry and a win for our moral health. But it’s also a symptom of the schizophrenic turn our nation has taken in recent years. Despite the Journal's assertion that hemp “belongs to the cannabis species of plants like marijuana” and that “the plants can appear nearly identical,” a Google consultation and five minutes of research (or actually reading the Farm Bill that you’re reporting on) will tell you that hemp is marijuana. There's no difference outside of THC content. So the federal government literally legalized some cannabis while leaving the rest on the chopping block.
The new rules have already caused headaches for the owners of a truck containing 7,000 pounds of a green, leafy substance that the owners of the truck claimed was industrial hemp. Back in January, Idaho State Police said they’d made the biggest drug bust in history when they seized the truck. Last week a federal judge released the test results: It was hemp. Nevertheless, it’s unclear if the owners, Big Sky Scientific, are going to get their property back. Apparently an Idaho judge ruled against a lawsuit filed by the company demanding the return of its product and vehicle, since hemp is still illegal in the state. Well that's a weird version of an old tune.
And if you don’t think I’m starting to sound like a broken record about the times yet—they are a-changin’—then you need to get those ears irrigated and listen up. Texas is shocking the nation by initiating a marijuana reform revolution.
Last month the the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill that would decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of cannabis, slapping perpetrators with a $500 fine and a class C misdemeanor instead of jail time. According to Forbes, it passed by a vote of 98 to 43.
This might not seem like a big deal, since you live in one of the most marijuana-friendly states in the union (despite our lawmakers’ tongue-in-cheek decision to pass on legalizing recreational cannabis earlier this year), but Texas is famous for its draconian and weirdly overreactive cannabis laws. Right now, if someone gets caught with a joint (or a smear of cannabis resin, as my high school girlfriend found out in the ’90s) they'll probably get hit with a class B misdemeanor, up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. They could lose their driver’s license. The judge presiding over the case has the option (which they often take) of entering the offender into a probation program that can include monthly fees and drug testing for extended periods of time. I grew up in Houston during the ’90s and the aughts, and at any given time, a significant chunk of my friends would be on probation for marijuana. They’d all have a horror story of jail time. It was ridiculous, and, thankfully, something most of my readers will never have to worry about.
And hopefully lawmakers in The Lone Star State will soon join us in leaving such beastly practices in the dust, where they belong. It’s likely we’ll see it cross Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk in the future. I'll be watching his reaction intently.
Also on the table is a bill to expand the “medical cannabis program” in Texas. I put that in quotations because the program only gives patients suffering from intractable epilepsy access to cannabis oil that boasts less than 0.5 percent THC. Only 576 people were enrolled in the program in January, according to the Texas Tribune.
Returning to my initial point, though: The fact that Texans are considering changes to marijuana policy should be a signal that America is increasingly sliding toward a new world. I’ll wake you up when we get there.