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Cannabis: Humans are wired for it, New Mexico could be primed for it

Hemp plants in a Nevada warehouse.
Hemp plants in a Nevada warehouse.
Courtesy Jeff Anderson

LAS CRUCES - “We evolved with the plant. We have the receptors for it,” New Mexico State University Doña Ana County (DAC) Cooperative Extension Service Ag Agent for agronomy and horticulture Jeff Anderson said about cannabis.

He referenced the UCLA School of Medicine’s Cannabis Research Initiative, which says scientists in the 1990s “discovered endocannabinoids, the natural cannabis-like molecules produced by the human body (and realized) cannabis exerted its effects, in part, by mimicking our endocannabinoids.”

Their main function apparently “is to maintain … biological harmony in response to changes in the environment,” UCLA said. “The endocannabinoid system is incredibly old, having evolved over 500 million years ago (and) is present in all vertebrates.”

Anderson said about 5,000 acres of land in New Mexico is currently in cannabis production, and the state has the potential “to produce some of the best in the country” because of its climate, elevation and abundance of sunlight.

Anderson said he frequently receives calls from people who have bought land in the area with plans to plant cannabis but know little about growing or harvesting the crop except that it could return a high yield on investment. Most aren’t aware that it likely will cost $5,000-$10,000 an acre just for the plants, Anderson said, and that there will be additional costs for permits, water, fertilizer, harvesting, drying, processing, etc.

“You could lose your shirt,” he said.

Anderson’s advice to would-be cannabis growers is to get educated about cannabis and its production. If you decide to become a brain surgeon, he said, you don’t just walk into an operating room and say, ‘Okay, where’s the first patient?’ Like all NMSU Extension Service personnel, he said, “I’m here to help, “but I’m not your full-time instructor.”

 Analysis of cannabis plants is also important, Anderson said. Without it, growers won’t know what kind of plants they have. Cannabis plants with more than .03 percent delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound that gives cannabis its medical and recreational value, is currently illegal under state and federal law. And, only female cannabis plants produce THC. Also, he said, cannabis plants are hermaphroditic and, under certain stresses, can change sexes.

Anderson said the DAC Extension Service’s first-ever Hemp Workshop, held in May in Las Cruces, had about 250 attendees and could easily have surpassed 300. A second annual conference is already planned for next May, he said, and will be held at the Hotel Encanto. The topic of the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance (MVEDA)’s Aug. 6 meeting is “The Hemp Industry and its Growth Opportunities in the NM Borderplex.” The meeting will include a panel of experts discussing “the vertical integration opportunities of the industry in Southern New Mexico,” according to MVEDA.

If Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham succeeds with legislation she plans to introduce during the 2020 session of the New Mexico Legislature, it likely would raise that 0.3 percent threshold, and that could have a huge impact on the industry in New Mexico.

One of the presentations at the Extension Hemp Conference was on the success of hemp production in Nevada. When he visited a hemp farm during a cannabis conference in Pahrump, Nevada, in 2017, Anderson said, plants were being grown in popup tents. When he returned a year later, the farm had built and filled a huge warehouse and had tripled its crew.

Other presentations at the Extension Hemp Workshop included the history of hemp, the business and growing of hemp, the challenges, its pests and pathogens, legal hemp in New Mexico, hemp products (which include food, a fiber stronger than cotton, fuel and building materials, among many others) and the state’s medical cannabis program. Presenters included specialists from the New Mexico and Nevada Cooperative Extension Services, NMSU, the New Mexico Department of Health, ag industry professionals and a hemp farmer.

“It’s an exciting time,” Anderson said. “So many things are happening. It’s very dynamic right now. We want New Mexico to have the best.”

For more information, visit aces.nmsu.edu/2019hempworkshop.

Mike Cook may be contacted at mike@lascrucesbulletin.com.


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