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Joint Committee Of New Mexico Lawmakers Weighs Marijuana Legalization’s Economic Potential

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A joint panel of New Mexico House and Senate lawmakers met on Tuesday to discuss the economic impact of legalizing marijuana in the state.

While the legislature is not currently in session, the joint Interim Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy Committee heard from financial experts about revenue projections and potential tax structures for legal cannabis. They also took public testimony on the issue.

Separate reports from the D.C.-based think tank Tax Foundation, O’Donnell Economics & Strategy and the Legislative Finance Committee on the potential fiscal implications of legalizing cannabis were distributed for the meeting.

The Tax Foundation analysis found that New Mexico could ultimately bring in $68 million annually in excise tax revenue if the state followed Colorado’s model. For the first year in legal sales, the state stands to collect $25 million in total tax revenue, it determined.

Last year, the firm O’Donnell Economics & Strategy released a report that projected New Mexico marijuana sales would reach $660 million within five years of implementation. It also states that “a robust, regulated market for adult use cannabis would support 11,838 new jobs and $541 million in additional income for New Mexicans.”

Via O’Donnell Economics & Strategy.

Finally, the panel looked at the Legislative Finance Committee’s analysis of a legalization bill that was introduced during the short session earlier this year. That legislation passed one Senate committee only to be rejected in another.

Lawmakers also took testimony at the new hearing from Richard Anklam, executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, and Ultra Health CEO Duke Rodriguez.

There was some general debate on the prospect of legalizing marijuana in the state, with some legislators treating it as a given that they will enact the policy change in short order and others raising certain concerns such as how to incentivize people to transition from the illicit to the regulated market.

Rep. Javier MartĂ­nez (D), the chairman of the joint committee and the lead sponsor of recent legalization legislation, reminded members that this is not the first time they’ve discussed the financial impact of ending cannabis prohibition.

“We have studied this issue through interim committees through work groups. We’ve traveled the state to hear from people from all walks of life, including public health experts, rural communities, law enforcement—you name it,” he said. “And we’re going to continue.”

He added that “we want to make sure that communities across the state are able to participate in this new, as we heard, multimillion dollar industry.”

The state “can’t legalize for the sake of legalizing without making a commitment to righting the wrongs of the past,” he said, adding that that includes ensuring some cannabis tax revenue is reinvested in communities most impacted under prohibition.

The economics of legalization has been a particular focus both within the legislature and the governor’s office.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said earlier this month that marijuana legalization represents a positive fiscal opportunity for the state, especially amid budget shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Recreational cannabis is one of those areas where that’s $100 million” in tax revenue, the governor said, referring to a report came out of a working group she formed to study the impact of legalization last year. “It doesn’t fix it, but it plugs one of those holes [and] potentially would be enough to do a whole lot in the Medicaid gaps.”

That report combined tax revenue from the existing medical cannabis market and the add-on of adult-use sales.

While the governor has previously talked about the economic benefits of legalization, she proposed a more targeted use of tax revenue this time by indicating it could help fund the health care program.

In May, Lujan Grisham signaled that she may actively campaign against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in this year’s regular session. She also said in February that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum.

The legalization effort in the state may get a boost next year from the results of this year’s primary elections in which several Democratic lawmakers who had opposed the reform were ousted by progressive challengers.

Marijuana Accounts For One In Ten South Dakota Arrests, New Report Shows Ahead Of Legalization Vote

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New Zealand Marijuana Legalization Trails In Early Referendum Results, But More Votes To Be Counted

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A New Zealand referendum to legalize marijuana is trailing, according to preliminary election results released on Friday. But with hundreds of thousands of ballots remaining to be counted, the final outcome won’t be known until late next week.

Polls in the country closed on October 17, but elections officials don’t count referendum votes on election night. Instead, the preliminary results were tallied over the subsequent days and released Friday afternoon local time in New Zealand, with final results expected to be announced on November 6.

According to the initial election data, forty-six percent—1,114,485 people—voted for the referendum and 53 percent—1,281,818 people—were against it.

But the final outcome is still unknown. The early numbers don’t include an estimated 480,000 or more so-called special votes, which are expected to account for roughly 17 percent of all cast ballots. The category includes votes by citizens overseas, those who only recently registered to vote as well as people serving prison sentences of less than three years. It also includes students who are attending schools out of the districts where they are normally registered to vote.

Observers expect the special votes will be disproportionately in favor of legalization, which means the measure may still have a chance of passage.

Still, according to Justice Minister Andrew Little, it is “highly unlikely” that the result will flip when all is said and done. “For the cannabis referendum result to change it would require roughly 70 percent of the special votes to go in favor,” he said.

That said, Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick, who has been at the forefront of the nation’s legalization debate, said she remains “optimistic.”

“Today’s result shows what we had long assumed, that it was going to be really close and that we need to wait for the specials to be sure of the result,” she said. “We have said from the outset that this would always come down to voter turnout. We’ve had record numbers of special votes.”

Win or lose, New Zealand’s referendum marks the first time an entire country’s voters have been asked to decide whether to legalize cannabis. Unveiled in April, the federal government’s proposal would allow adults 20 and older to purchase and possess marijuana as well as cultivate up to two plants for personal use. The proposal would also open cannabis coffeeshops, where on-site consumption would be permitted.

A government levy on marijuana sales would be used to boost national health services, though it hasn’t yet been decided what the rate would be.

The public referendum resulted from a deal the country’s Green Party struck after agreeing to help install Labour Party leader Jacina Ardern as prime minister following the country’s 2017 election.

Passage of the referendum would make New Zealand just the third country with a national law allowing cannabis sales, following Uruguay and Canada. A handful of other nations, meanwhile, have policies allowing personal possession and home cultivation.

Going into the election, polls of likely voters showed a tight race, with opponents leading in some surveys and supporters ahead in others.

Even if voters are shown to have ultimately approved the referendum when all the ballots are counted next week, legalization wouldn’t happen automatically. Parliament would still need to enact the proposed legislation, and lawmakers could make changes along the way.

People with past cannabis-related convictions likely wouldn’t see their records cleared under the plan. Little, the minister of justice, said earlier this month that his office has no plans to erase past convictions even if the referendum passes. He nevertheless acknowledged that the drug war isn’t working.

“Up to 80 percent of New Zealanders are saying in surveys that they have at some time in their lives tried cannabis,” Little said. “Prohibition is not prohibiting cannabis. It’s in our communities, so it is time to decide on whether to control it.”

But on Friday, after the preliminary results were announced, the justice minister said that “there are no other plans that we have for broader drug reform.”

But if voters ultimately reject the measure, Ardern, the prime minister, has indicated there may still be a path forward for some reforms, even if it’s not full-scale legalization. The official, whose party won handily in this month’s elections, said use should be treated as a public health matter rather than a criminal justice problem.

“Regardless of the outcome of the vote, we will look at the way the Misuse of Drugs Act amendments are being applied, making sure we’ve got the addiction and treatment facilities that we need, and making sure those referrals are happening in the cases where they should,” she said on the campaign trail this month, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Ardern refused to say during the campaign whether she planned to vote for the referendum. But on Friday, after the preliminary results were announced, her office said that she voted in favor of it.

Meanwhile in the United States, voters in five states—Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota—will consider legalization measures of their own next week.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll

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Mississippi Supreme Court Won’t Consider Challenge To Medical Marijuana Measure Until After Election

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The Mississippi Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it won’t weigh the merits of a last-minute legal challenge to medical marijuana ballot measures that voters will decide on next week until after Election Day.

The case, filed on Monday by the mayor of the city of Madison, alleges that state law was not properly followed to place the cannabis issue before voters.

The top state court had initially directed the secretary of state to respond to the complaint by the end of business on Wednesday. But in a new one-page order, Chief Justice Michael Randolph rescinded the earlier filing and instead asked that the official weigh in by next Friday, November 6—three days after voters will decide on the two competing medical cannabis measures that appear on their ballots.

Madison’s emergency petition cites a law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.

“Petitioners’ challenge to the filing of the petition for Initiative Measure No. 65 is a challenge to form,” the filing from Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler (R) says. “The measure could be about any topic, and its constitutional invalidity would remain. No matter what the content of the measure is, the petition signatures are insufficient under the plain language” of the Constitution until the lawmakers institute a fix.

“It is unfortunate that the Legislature’s failure means that the Constitution cannot be amended by initiative until either Section 273(3) is amended or Mississippi regains a congressional seat,” the lawsuit states, adding that the mayor isn’t necessarily against medical marijuana itself.

She wants the court to deem the placement of the legalization initiative unconstitutional and “issue whatever extraordinary writs appropriate” to nullify the vote.

Under the activist-driven reform measure, patients with debilitating medical issues would be allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), the campaign behind the initiative, has faced a series of obstacles before and after qualifying for the state’s November ballot.

Most recently, President Trump’s reelection campaign issued a cease and desist order against the Mississippi advocates, claiming “unauthorized and misleading representation” of the president’s position on the reform measure in one of its mailers—even though he has on multiple occasions spoken favorably on camera about medical cannabis.

But the primary complication for advocates is the fact that two competing initiatives will appear alongside each other on the ballot. After MCC qualified their measure by collecting signatures from voters, the legislature approved an alternative that is viewed as more restrictive. The result is a muddled ballot that requires voters to answer a two-step series of questions—and that potential confusion threatens to jeopardize the activist-led proposal.

The Mississippi State Medical Association and American Medical Association have also contributed to the opposition, circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject Initiative 65.

Earlier this month, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed legislation that amends state law to allow people to obtain marijuana-derived medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He also reiterated his opposition to broader medical cannabis reform, stating that he’s “against efforts to make marijuana mainstream.”

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve similarly posed a threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.

Mississippians for Compassionate Care Communications Director Jamie Grantham called the new lawsuit “meritless.”

“This is simply a last-ditch effort by political and bureaucratic opponents to deny relief to patients with 22 specific debilitating medical conditions,” she said.

This isn’t the first time that this election cycle that courts have been involved in state-level cannabis legalization ballot initiatives.

The Montana Supreme Court last week rejected a lawsuit seeking to invalidate a marijuana legalization measure that will appear on the state’s November ballot.

With weeks before the election, opponents asked the court to quash the measure, arguing that because it involves appropriating funds, it violates state statute on citizen initiatives. The court didn’t weigh in on the merits of the case; rather, it said the petitioners with the reform campaign failed to demonstrate “urgency or emergency factors” that would justify moving the case into its jurisdiction instead of going through trial and appeals courts first, which opponents said they will now do.

In neighboring Nebraska, the state Supreme Court ruled last month that a measure to legalize medical cannabis that had qualified for the November ballot could not proceed because it violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.

Activists there are already pursuing a simplified medical cannabis measure for 2022.

Read the Mississippi chief justice’s order below:

Mississippi Supreme Court Medical Marijuana Order by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll

 

Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.

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Cory Booker Urges New Jersey Voters To Legalize Marijuana As Data Shows Supporters Outraising Opponents

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Another one of the most prominent elected officials in New Jersey is urging the state’s voters to approve a marijuana legalization referendum that’s on their ballots next week. Meanwhile, new campaign finance data released by the state shows that supporters of the cannabis reform measure are outraising opponents by more than a 200-to-1 ratio.

“This is an important question,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in a new video published by the NJ CAN 2020 campaign on Wednesday. “I hope as you fill out the front of your ballot, you will look at the back and see that question, ballot question number one, and that you will vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey for adult use. We can do this as a state so much more responsibly, and instead of destroying lives we can get more resources to help to empower the well-being of all New Jerseyans.”

Booker, who has been a leading champion for federal cannabis reform in Congress, said that “we have seen how the drug war has not been a war on drugs, but a war on people.”

“Veterans, for example, are more likely to be arrested for drug use or possession of marijuana. Instead of getting help. They’re often hurt by a system that piles upon them criminal charges for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing,” he said, adding that African Americans, Latinos and low-income people are also disproportionately targeted by enforcement.

Meanwhile, a report released on Thursday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) shows that committees supporting the referendum have raised $2,074,030 in campaign contributions. That’s compared to just $9,913 brought in by opponents.

“Assuming all available funds are spent, the marijuana ballot question already ranks eighth among the top ten most expensive public referenda in the Garden State,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Keep in mind that marijuana interests already have spent $4.1 million on lobbying between 2017 and 2019. So the industry’s overall political investment in New Jersey already has topped $6 million.”

Via NJ ELEC.

The new numbers reflect data filed through October 20, and additional post-election spending data will be released on December 1.

Earlier numbers released two weeks ago pegged the fundraising disparity at a ratio of nearly 130 to 1.

If voters approve the referendum, legal recreational marijuana sales could potentially begin within mere weeks through the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries under a plan laid out this week by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

A hearing to get a head start on planning legal cannabis implementation was scheduled for last week, but that was canceled when the senator went into quarantine after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Booker, for his part, is framing legalization as a matter of criminal justice reform.

“It will help us to join with other states who are seeing through legalizing you could better regulate its usage, you can have more and more tax dollars that can be applied to state priorities, from education to treatment,” Booker said in his new video. “And, we see how we begin to end what has been a very dark and unfair chapter in criminal justice in America.”

In any case, if polling is any indication, it appears that voters are poised to pass the cannabis referendum on their ballots next week.

A survey released last week found that that 65 percent of New Jersey voters are in favor of the marijuana referendum. Just 29 percent are opposed to the policy change and six percent remain undecided.

The results are statistically consistent with three prior polls from the same firm, as well as one from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which similarly found roughly two to one support for the measure. A separate survey released this month by Stockton University showed three-to-one support for legalizing cannabis among New Jersey voters.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has also been actively campaigning in favor of the referendum, participating in fundraisers and ads to encourage voters to approve it.

For example, the governor recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month, outlining why he’s embraced the policy change. Murphy said that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis in New Jersey wastes taxpayer dollars, and he emphasized that prohibition is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.

The governor similarly said in a recent interview that the marijuana reform proposal prioritizes social justice.

“I wish we could have gotten it done through a legislative process,” he said at the time, referencing lawmakers’ inability to advance a legalization bill last session. “We just couldn’t find the last few votes, so it’s on the referendum. I’m strongly supporting it—first and foremost for social justice reasons.”

Murphy also recently called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast that was circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

He said in July that legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.

The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”

NJ CAN 2020 released a series of English- and Spanish-language video ads this month, after having published one prior ad.

In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces a civil penalty without the threat of jail time, though it hasn’t advance in the Senate.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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