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Muhamed Abdelhack covers business and economy for The Paper. He is a communications and journalism graduate of UNM.

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Before we get into it, and for the benefit of all readers, it should be made clear that there is a difference between hemp and marijuana. Both come from varieties of Cannabis sativa, one of three subclassifications of the cannabis plant. Hemp contains very minimal, if any, amounts of THC, the ingredient that gets a person high. Marijuana, alternatively, can contain up to 30 percent THC. Hemp also has a wide variety of commercial applications and can be made into products including rope, clothing, bioplastics. The plant has medicinal applications as well. Back in 2019 industrial hemp production was approved by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) and was legalized in New Mexico. Since then the industry has been rolling right along. Additionally, federal officials just approved the NMDA’s hemp production regulatory plan, which gives regulation authority to the state over hemp production within its borders.  

Now, to help would-be growers cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit, a university in New Mexico will begin offering certificate programs in industrial hemp entrepreneurship. Students will be able to follow one of two tracks of study; the first focuses on the business aspects of industrial hemp, while the other is geared toward the science of plant production. These certificate courses, offered through New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, still need to go through accreditation reviews and the approvals by the Higher Learning Commission. “We believe that industrial hemp is a growth industry that can benefit the economic development of northeastern New Mexico,” Highlands business professor Heath Anderson said in an article on kob.com. “The most important goal of the new certificate program is to prepare students with the professional skills needed to be successful in the burgeoning legal hemp industry.”

In speaking with The Paper., Shanon Jaramillo, Socorro native and founder of SeedCrest, LLC and Cannabis NM Staffing LLC, sees bushels of potential for the cannabis industry in New Mexico and gives her full support for continued development of these types of educational programs. “Right now there are approximately 2,000 to 2,500 people working under the New Mexico Cannabis Program,” Jaramillo said. “I see the most growth potential happening on the retail and ancillary side, however. We will see a surge of technical trade sectors such as chemistry, quality assurance and grow technicians serving the industry as well.” 

Starting in January 2021, Northern New Mexico College will also offer courses geared toward the cannabis industry. Currently proposed as pilot programs, the college courses will initially include the SeedCrest Cannabis Establishment Technician Course for three college credits and 40 contact hours. “We have a three-year agreement that was just approved by the NNMC Board of Regents to work together on several other educational programs,” Jaramillo said. Still the industry is ripe with misconceptions, all of which Jaramillo believes are easy to fix with the right education. “The stigma of cannabis that the government and anti-marijuana conservatives continue to uphold confuses the public,” said Jaramillo. 

With funding help from its Local Economic Development Act, the New Mexico Economic Development Department expects to generate some 400 jobs from hemp-related businesses across the state. “I have prioritized hemp production since day one,” said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. “It can be an economic game changer for our agricultural communities, creating jobs and building opportunity. I’m grateful for this next step, and I look forward to more.”

One thing is for certain, with the recent approval of the hemp production regulatory plan, this is a New Mexico industry is only just beginning to bud. 

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