Another New Mexico House committee has approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state.
The Taxation & Revenue Committee, which is chaired by the bill’s sponsor Rep. Javier Martinez (D), passed the legislation on Wednesday in a 8-4 vote. This comes one week after the Health & Human Services Committee advanced the measure.
Under the proposal, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess “at least” two ounces of cannabis and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use. It would also create a system of regulated and taxed cannabis sales.
The legislation is favored by reform advocates because—unlike the other House and Senate reform measures that have been introduced this session—it would specifically use tax revenue from marijuana sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by the war on drugs. It also stands out for including provisions to automatically expunge prior cannabis convictions.
Martinez’s proposal would require rules for the market to be implemented by January 2022.
The committee approved a substitute version that includes a number of changes, including moving the start of legal sales back to January 1, 2022 from October 1 of this year. That would apply to existing medical cannabis dispensaries and microbusinesses, with sales for other retailers set to start September 2022.
The substitute also removes language earmarking tax revenue for a community reinvestment fund and a low-income patient subsidy program. The fund accounts will still be created, but it would be up to lawmakers to steer money to them in future sessions once cannabis revenue starts coming in.
Other modifications include new language on regulatory authority for the cannabis market, allowing health and safety inspections of businesses, addressing workplace and employment issues, replacing fines and fees for youth who violate the law with a civil infraction penalty, stipulating that people can petition for resentencing for offenses made legal and adjusting the state excise tax on marijuana from nine percent to eight percent while giving local jurisdictions the option to levy an additional four percent tax.
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Martinez said at the hearing that one primary objective of his bill is to “protect” and “enhance” the state’s medical cannabis program, which “has been a godsend for communities and families across the state, particularly those suffering from chronic illness, chronic pain, PTSD.” Secondly, he said, “we’ve got to ensure that whatever legalization framework we lead with is rooted in values of equity and justice.”
The legislation next heads to the House floor. Separate Senate bills have not yet been scheduled for hearings.
For her part, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has repeatedly talked about the need to legalize as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address last month that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”
The governor also included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda that she released last month and said in a recent interview that she’s “still really optimistic about cannabis” this session.
That optimism is bolstered by the fact that several anti-legalization Democrats, including the Senate president pro tem and the Finance Committee chair, were ousted by progressive primary challengers last year.
Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and where sales officially launched earlier this month.
New Mexico shares another border with Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use. Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April.
Earlier, in 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it died in the Senate. Later that year, Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.
Polling indicates that voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found that a strong majority of New Mexico residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly.
Last May, the governor signaled that she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.