Cannabis Manual: Hemp Blues

An Interview With Michael Chappelear

Joshua Lee
6 min read
Hemp Blues
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It’s been over a year since growing hemp for research was legalized in New Mexico, and the Department of Agriculture seems to finally be starting the process of introducing hemp production. It’s still up in the air how the law will be enacted and what regulations will be in place.

Michael Chappelear, the spokesperson for the New Mexico Hemp Association, spoke with us about the subject.

Weekly Alibi: Why did you start the New Mexico Hemp Association?

Chappelear: It was looking like hemp was in the spotlight and people were realizing that Americans are the largest consumers of hemp-based products in the world, yet we weren’t growing it. All the products were being imported from China, Canada, Australia … New Mexico, being predominantly an ag state in a lot of ways, seemed ripe for the whole industry.

What do you think about hemp’s current status here in the state?

Our primary concern is that regardless of what the federal government does, it doesn’t appear as though the state government is bending over backwards to open up the doors on this thing for the farmers of New Mexico. By setting up a procedure in which you’re getting your licensure from the Department of Agriculture, but it’s being done through the University of New Mexico, we think they can hold back the reins on this thing if they want and say, “Well, we’re not really sure about this hemp stuff yet, so if you want to grow some under the auspices of a ‘research plot’ through the University of New Mexico, well then … maybe.”

Nobody knows for sure. The last updated thing I saw from the Department of Agriculture was “discussion points” back at the end of August. This is not set in stone. They’re still feeling their way through this. Recently they held a series of meetings where they reached out to the community and said, “What do you think?” It’ll be interesting to see what comes from that.

Plenty of other states are starting hemp programs. Why haven’t we?

You can go back five years, to when we first started New Mexico Hemp Association and Kentucky, Colorado—several other states—are already on it. They’re growing it. They’re harvesting it. They have crops for manufacturers to make use of. Is New Mexico going to jump on the bandwagon? I don’t know. I had high hopes at one point, but having been familiar with New Mexico politics for more than a decade, I’ve seen time and again where they drag their feet or even shoot themselves in the foot sometimes. We’re here for the farmers, not those who hope to get rich off the taxes.

Does opening the door to research give you any hope at all?

I mean, sure, any movement in the forward direction is a plus. But I’ve got people e-mailing me daily asking, “Where can I get seed? When can I plant?” And we haven’t even answered the question of what is going to be considered acceptable “certified” seed in New Mexico—which is also something the university will probably determine.

I think Kentucky was in a unique situation because they had heirloom hemp seeds in-state—stuff that they used back when they had a prosperous hemp industry. So it was fairly easy for them to say, “This is the seed we used back then. I’m sure it would be fine now. Let’s use this.” But that was a unique scenario.

So New Mexico isn’t sitting on seeds we can just start using?

Not to the best of my knowledge. And if they want to breed it, the standard that they have to hit is this 0.3 percent THC—which I’ll go on record with this one: That is about the dumbest thing anybody ever came up with, because they’re not focusing on end use. If I’m growing a hemp crop, and I’ve got a manufacturer saying, “As soon as your crop’s harvested, I’m ready to make clothing out of this,” or make rope or whatever they want to do—even if we loosened it up a little bit and said one percent THC—nobody’s going to be smoking the shirts that are being manufactured to get high. Especially when you have a medical and recreational industry established throughout the country that’s hitting between 20 and 30 percent THC. Why would anybody bother?

How did they arrive at that number?

It was arbitrary. I believe Canada was using it and they said, “Oh well that’s a good bench mark. Let’s use that.” It’s just trace amounts, but if you come in at 0.4 percent, like a guy in Colorado did, you have to destroy your crop.

You sound a little disenchanted, maybe.

I’m cautiously optimistic. There’s a lot of people pushing really hard for an industrial hemp industry in New Mexico. And they have been for a long time.

What makes hemp an attractive crop to grow here?

Hemp is a great rotation crop, especially in those fields where they grow alfalfa, which is big in New Mexico. They could easily incorporate this into the mix. And there’s something like 25,000 different products that can be made with hemp. That’s a lot.

A point that drives me is that if it’s not organic, I can only hope that the market won’t support it. Because there’s no need to use a bunch of pesticides and chemicals on this plant. It does fine with a little bit of tending—getting out in the field and dealing with whatever bug issues by hand. Because it grows faster than almost anything else. And it’s also very hearty. People don’t need to go spraying any pesticides or anything else on it.

I just hope that the consumers will drive that end of it, and say, “If it’s not certified organic, then I don’t want it.”

But another part of that is—if we’re really going to have an industry that is potentially going to change the nature of farming in this country, which it could—you’ve got to let the farmers set the guidelines and the price.

So what can someone reading this do?

Vote. Tell your friends to vote. Grab your grandmother. Take everybody to the polls and turn these administrations around. This next election is going to get really ugly. It kind of scares me a little bit as to what direction it could go. Every individual who wants to see industrial hemp in New Mexico needs to get out and cast their vote. I’m not going to tell anyone who to vote for, but I’d say try and make sure they’re sympathetic to this and that they’re going to take strides to help support it.
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