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New Mexico Governor Plans Special Session On Marijuana As Legalization Bill Stalls On Final Stretch

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New Mexico’s Senate failed to hear a marijuana legalization bill as time ticked down to the close of the legislative session on Saturday. With just hours left before lawmakers adjourned, however, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said she’ll call them back soon for a special session to consider the issue of ending cannabis prohibition.

“We’re going to have a special session in a week or so, and we’re going to get cannabis because I am not going to wait another year,” the governor said in comments to the Sandoval County Democratic Party on Saturday. “We’re going to win it and it’s going to have the social justice aspects that we know have to be in a package.”

The governor’s office said that as lawmakers continued through a session that stretched past midnight, Lujan Grisham “has had very productive conversations with leadership on both sides about a path forward on legalized adult-use cannabis.”

“It’s important enough and we’re close enough that the governor firmly believes it will be worth an extra effort to close the deal,” the statement said.

The legalization measure, HB 12, which passed the House of Representatives last month, was repeatedly delayed during the week amid a frantic push by lawmakers to make amendments to the nearly 200-page bill. While the full Senate was scheduled to hear the legislation Friday, it became clear over the course of the day that wouldn’t happen.

The legislature officially came to a close at noon Saturday. To make that deadline, the Senate would have had to pass the measure, then the full House would have needed to sign off on the Senate’s changes. If the House had rejected those amendments, the two chambers would’ve formed a conference committee to hammer out a deal.

“Everyone’s first preference is that this gets done and done right by 12 p.m. tomorrow,” said the Friday night statement from the governor’s office. “But there are a lot of priorities left to be heard, and only so many hours left, and legislators working very hard over long hours to move priorities.”

In a joint statement issued minutes after the governor’s announcement, the bill’s two lead sponsors, Reps. Javier Martínez (D) and Andrea Romero (D), said they “welcome any avenue” to pass the bill this year.

“We need to legalize adult-use cannabis tonight or in a special session,” the sponsors said. “House Bill 12 puts forward New Mexico’s best opportunity to establish a multi-million-dollar industry with a framework that prioritizes social justice and equal opportunity for our communities. The governor has made a commitment to sign a bill that represents our shared principles.”

On Saturday, after the session’s end, Lujan Grisham said at a press conference that she feels “very confident that this legislative body is going to figure out all of the issues that still need a little bit of effort and debate, and we’re going to be ready to go.”

“I feel very confident that we are going to be able to announce adult-use cannabis in the very near future in New Mexico,” she said, adding that the special session could begin on or around March 31.

“Legalized adult-use cannabis is one of the best moves we can make in our work to build a bona fide 21st century economy in New Mexico,” the governor said in a press release. “I believe legalization will be one of the largest job-creation programs in state history, driving entrepreneurial opportunities statewide for decades to come. I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to get the job done and done right.”

Emily Kaltenbach, the senior director for resident states and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, and who served as a consultant to the bill’s sponsors, cheered the governor’s move to extend the discussion into special session.

“While we are disappointed that New Mexicans will have to wait a little bit longer to reap the benefits and justice cannabis legalization will provide—especially to Hispanic/Latinx, Black, Native and Indigenous communities, who have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition—after the legislature failed to pass House Bill 12 this session, we applaud Governor Lujan Grisham for acknowledging this cannot wait and indicating she will take up legalization in a special session,” she said.

NORML’s state policies manager, Carly Wolf, stressed that a failure to legalize cannabis this year would mean continued consequences for vulnerable communities.

“Lawmakers, for the moment, have once again failed to deliver common sense marijuana policy reform for the people of New Mexico — an overwhelming majority of whom support legalizing cannabis for adults,” she said. “In the interim, thousands of their constituents, disproportionately their constituents of color, will continue to be saddled with criminal records and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it.”

The latest official version of the bill was approved early Thursday morning by the Senate Judiciary Committee after a contentious late-night hearing, but the legislation is likely to change significantly by the time it comes to a vote in a special session. As the regular session’s end approached, journalists and lawmakers tweeted out reports of efforts to overhaul its core components.

“For those following marijuana legalization and assuming I was stalling the process, know that I’ve learned we will see a substantially rewritten bill today with fewer than 24 hours and zero committee on what it might be,” posted Sen. Joe Cervantes (D), the Judiciary chairman and a vocal opponent of the bill who said it was too poorly written to become law.

Cervantes tore into the bill’s language during the panel hearing a day earlier but declined to discuss possible changes with sponsors during that meeting. “I just don’t have the time tonight to do this with you,” he told them. “You all can do this tonight, tomorrow, and work on it harder. And you don’t need me to do that. If people were reading this bill carefully, they would realize that it’s wrong.”

In a tweet on Friday night, Cervantes again criticized the sponsors for not being able to write “an intelligible bill” in his view.

Martinez, for his part, replied by saying that he respects the chairman but asked him to “stop demeaning our work.”

Around 2:00 PM on Friday, reporter Andy Lyman of the New Mexico Political Report said multiple sources had told him of plans to remove HB 12’s section that would expunge past cannabis crimes “and somehow incorporate it into” a separate House bill about criminal records. That legislation was also ultimately not considered by the Senate prior to the end of the session.

By 7:00 PM, Lyman tweeted that he was hearing “that cannabis legalization, as of now, will not pass the Senate and may not even be heard by the end of the session.”

Minutes later, Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R), who introduced a competing legalization measure this session, told Marijuana Moment the bill wasn’t done just yet. “Working hard to fix it,” he said in a text message. “We have time.”

Pirtle, the ranking Republican in the Senate Judiciary Committee, had introduced a committee amendment earlier in the week that would have replaced the full text of HB 12 with language from his own measure, but the panel rejected that move.

At 8:30 PM, a reporter for The Daily Lobo tweeted that he asked HB 12 sponsor Romero about the status of the bill. “I wish I knew,” the representative replied. “I’m watching the clock tick like everyone else.”

As of early Saturday morning, HB 12 was still on the Senate’s calendar, although Sen, Jacob Candelaria (D), who sponsored yet another cannabis legalization bill this year, tweeted, “I do not expect recreational cannabis to pass this regular session, due in part to @NMHouseGOP scorched earth tactics to shut down the people’s house.”

“Special Session here we come,” he said.

House Republicans appeared to take a temporary victory lap of sorts, tweeting that the governor “has FAILED to get her showpiece marijuana bill across the line.”

“She now says she will call us back next week,” the caucus said.

Legislative leaders settled on HB 12 from among a handful of legalization proposals introduced this session by both Democrats and Republicans. Over the course of the past several weeks, the bills’ sponsors have tried to unify the conflicting proposals and incorporate feedback from colleagues.

Cervantes has repeatedly framed the proposal as “all about money,” a critique he echoed at the committee hearing. “I’m sure the big guys have written this bill. I wasn’t born yesterday,” he said.

The chairman again complained about last-minute changes in a tweet on Saturday morning.

Pirtle, the Republican who brought a separate legalization bill this session, told Marijuana Moment that “it seems like the focus of House Bill 12 is social justice and not how to properly regulate cannabis.”

The bill has three major components, lead sponsor Martínez said at the most recent committee hearing: protecting existing medical marijuana patients, ensuring racial justice in how cannabis is legalized and establishing smart regulatory and tax systems.

“Is this bill perfect? Probably not,” he acknowledged. “Should this bill move forward, should we legalize cannabis in New Mexico this year, I can assure you that we will all be up here next year, making tweaks. That’s the way it should be … because good policy and good law should be evolving, especially when we attempt to do something as big as this.”

During the Senate Judiciary meeting, lawmakers amended the bill with changes to licensing rules, tax collection and criminal justice procedures, among other provisions. The revisions would also delay the proposed launch of commercial sales to April 2022. Sales would initially begin at existing medical marijuana dispensaries and newly licensed small businesses, then expand later in the year to all new licensees.

Pirtle on Saturday said he plans to “work with Democratic leaders and the governor” on crafting a revised legalization bill during the upcoming special session.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Polling indicates New Mexico voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found a strong majority of residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support the decriminalization of drug possession more broadly.

Gov. Lujan Grisham, meanwhile, included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and 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 in January 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.”

Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where sales officially launched in January after voters approved a legalization ballot initiative last year. To New Mexico’s north is 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 the end of April.

Before last year’s failed effort, New Mexico’s House in 2019 approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but that measure died in the Senate. Later that year, Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.

In May of last year, the governor signaled 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.

Marijuana Banking Bill Reintroduced In Congress With Broad Bipartisan Support From More Than 100 Lawmakers

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Business

New House Bills Would Make Cannabis Businesses Eligible For Federal Small-Business Aid

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Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced three new bills to make state-legal marijuana businesses eligible for federal small business services, including loans, disaster relief and grant programs.

The package of legislation is aimed at establishing parity for cannabis businesses, which are currently prohibited from receiving federal aid due to marijuana still being classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. The country’s legal cannabis industry nevertheless now supports nearly 320,000 full-time jobs in the U.S., according to industry estimates.

The measures are largely similar to legislation introduced by the lawmakers in 2019, with some small changes.

One bill, sponsored by House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), would allow marijuana businesses to access resources from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). The Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act of 2021, which had not been assigned a bill number as of Tuesday afternoon, would expand access to services such as microloans, disaster assistance and the agency’s loan guaranty program.

“With more and more states pursuing legalization, including my home state of New York, there are a growing number of legitimate small businesses that are excluded from critical SBA programs,” Velázquez said in a statement, noting that much of the cannabis industry consists of small businesses.

Compared to Velázquez’s 2019 bill, the new version adds clauses meant to expand the availability of services. While the 2019 bill applied to SBA itself, provisions in the new legislation also prevent SBA intermediaries, private lenders and state and local development companies from declining to work with businesses simply because of their marijuana-related work.

Another new section deals with debentures—certain unsecured loan certificates—and clarifies that SBA may not decline to purchase or guarantee a debenture just because of a business’s involvement in cannabis. Nor can other small business investment companies decline to provide assistance to the cannabis sector.

“This legislation will spark growth by extending affordable capital to small firms in the cannabis space,” she continued. “Simultaneously, the bill acknowledges the structural disadvantages facing entrepreneurs of color and seeks to level the playing field.”

Another newly refiled measure, H.R. 2649, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA), would establish a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) grant program to provide funding to state and local governments to help them navigate the licensing process for cannabis businesses. The bill, which also removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, specifies that the grant money should be used to benefit communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war.

“My bill would act as a poverty-buster and help homegrown small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy and our neighborhoods. We need to make sure that the booming legal cannabis industry does not become consolidated in the hands of a few big companies,” Evans said.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

A third bill, H.R. 2649, from Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), would prohibit SBA partners that provide guidance and training services from denying help to businesses solely because of involvement in cannabis. The changes would affect providers such as SBA’s Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and the Veterans Business Outreach Centers, among others.

“Our continued economic recovery depends on the health of American small businesses of all kinds. Especially in this environment, no Maine small business owner should be turned away from crucial SBA programs that could help them create jobs and lift up the economy,” said Rep. Golden. “My bill would help address this problem by providing small business owners directly or indirectly associated with the cannabis industry with access to the services and resources they need to get their small businesses off the ground and grow.”

Meanwhile, federal lawmakers have been making headway on other cannabis-related proposals. The House passed a cannabis banking bill on Monday, and broader legislation to legalize cannabis at the federal level is expected to be introduced soon.

The banking legislation would ensure that financial institutions can take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators. The full House passed the bill on a 321–101 vote.

“Even if you are opposed to the legalization of cannabis, you should support this bill,” sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said on the House floor. “The fact is that people in states and localities across the country are voting to approve some level of cannabis use, and we need these cannabis businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, payroll accounts, lines of credit, credit cards and more.

Other Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are working on legislation that would end federal cannabis prohibition completely.

Schumer said last week that the long-awaited proposal would be introduced “shortly” and placed on the floor “soon.” Schumer has so far declined to discuss the bill’s specifics, though he’s stressed that it will prioritize small businesses and people most historically impacted by the drug war.

In an interview with Marijuana Moment this week, Schumer worried that passage of the House banking bill could actually undermine broader congressional cannabis reform this year.

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his own legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the House in a landmark vote last year but did not advance in GOP-controlled the Senate.

Meanwhile, support for legalization among U.S. voters continues to grow. More than 9 in 10 Americans (91 percent) now support legalizing cannabis for either medical or adult use, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Friday. Sixty percent of respondents said that cannabis should be legal for both medical and adult use. Thirty-one percent said it should be legalized for therapeutic purposes only, while just eight percent said it should continue to be criminalized across the board.

A majority of those in every age, race and political demographic included in the poll said they feel marijuana should be legal in some form, although many Republicans remain wary of adult-use legalization. Seventy-two percent of Democrats favored both medical and adult-use legalization compared to only 47 percent of Republicans.

Among the minority in opposition to federal legalization: President Joe Biden (D). White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month that the president’s position on the issue “has not changed,” meaning he still opposes the reform. on Tuesday, Psaki refused to say whether Biden would sign or veto a cannabis legalization bill if passed by Congress.

The president instead backs modestly rescheduling the plant, decriminalizing possession, legalizing medical cannabis, expunging prior marijuana records and letting states set their own policies.

Read the full text of the new legislation below:

Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act of 2021 by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Ensuring Access to Counseli… by Marijuana Moment

Homegrown Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Schumer Worries Senate Marijuana Banking Vote Could Undermine Broader Legalization Push

 

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Politics

Biden Won’t Commit To Sign Marijuana Bill If Passed By Congress, Press Secretary Says

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday declined to say whether President Joe Biden would sign or veto a bill to federally legalize marijuana if it arrives on his desk, noting that his cannabis policy position is at odds with broader proposals that congressional Democratic leaders are working on.

She was also asked about his stance on marijuana banking reform, the disconnect between public opinion favoring legalization and the president’s opposition and whether Biden plans to revisit clemency applications for those facing federal sentences over cannabis.

The noncommittal response to the legalization question comes on the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20—a day that has seen a wide range of politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), voice support for comprehensive marijuana reform.

Psaki was pressed on the Senate leader’s remarks and asked whether Biden would support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition if Congress approved it.

“The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records,” she said. “He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana so that’s his point of view on the issue.”

Biden’s positions to that end are well known, but an outstanding question has been whether his opposition to adult-use legalization is so strong that he would reject a reform proposal such as those currently being drafted in the House and Senate.

Asked directly what action the president would take if a federal legalization bill was sent to his desk, Psaki signaled that he wouldn’t be inclined to sign it, stating “I just have outlined what his position is, which isn’t the same as what the House and Senate have proposed, but they have not yet passed a bill.”

The reporter followed up to ask about a separate cannabis pledge Biden made as a presidential candidate, when he said people incarcerated in federal prisons over non-violent marijuana offenses should be released.

Psaki said that would be addressed if cannabis was rescheduled to Schedule II—a dubious claim given that there are still serious penalties for offenses involving substances in that category as well. She also didn’t provide any insight into whether the president is proactively pushing for the modest scheduling change.

Later in the briefing, the press secretary was asked where Biden stands on legislation to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. The House approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act along bipartisan lines on Monday.

She said it was a “good question,” but she wasn’t sure and told the reporter she would follow up with a response later.

When pushed on Biden’s opposition to the legalization in the face of mounting, majority support among Americans, Psaki said that while he’s in favor of decriminalization and legalizing medical marijuana, he wants more research on the “positive and negative effects” of adult-use legalization.

“He’ll look at the research once that’s concluded,” she said. “Of course we understand the movement that’s happening toward it. I’m speaking for what his position is and what long, consistently has been his position. He wants to decriminalize, but again, he’ll look at the research of the positive and negative impacts.”

The press conference ended with a final question about cannabis policy—specifically whether the Biden administration plans to revisit requests for clemency for federal cannabis convictions. The reporter cited the case of Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for operating a state-legal medical cannabis business in California, as an example.

“Given, as you’ve noted in the briefing, the president’s support for decriminalization, support for expunging exactly these types of offenses, are there any plans to revisit some of those bids for clemency?” the reporter asked.

“Well, I would just take it as an opportunity to reiterate that the president supports legalizing medicinal marijuana,” Psaki said. “It sounds like this would have been applicable in this case, and of course decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. In terms of individual cases, I can’t get ahead of those obviously.”

These question come, of course, on 4/20. But they also come at a time when there’s a concerted push in both chambers of Congress to seize the opportunity they have with Democratic control to pass legalization legislation.

Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been working on a bill on their side. The majority leader told Marijuana Moment on Monday that he’s working to push the president in a pro-legalization direction as they draft the measure.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Schumer Worries Senate Marijuana Banking Vote Could Undermine Broader Legalization Push

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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Culture

How Politicians Are Celebrating The Marijuana Holiday 4/20 This Year

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The country has come a long way since the days of politicians dismissing or shying away from marijuana issues. And a good example of that shift is the ever-growing number of lawmakers who are leaning into the cannabis holiday 4/20 with calls for reform.

For example, to kick of Tuesday’s Senate session, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spoke on the floor about the need to end federal marijuana prohibition, saying that “hopefully the next time this unofficial holiday 4/20 rolls around, our country will have made progress.”

Then there are the tweets—so many tweets—from state and congressional lawmakers, office seekers and regulators marking the occasion. It’s become a theme each year, and as more states pursue legalization, it seems more elected officials have grown comfortable embracing the holiday in their own ways.

Here’s what politicians are saying about cannabis this 4/20: 

Members of Congress

Congressional candidates

State officials and parties

Local officials

Former federal officials

International lawmakers

Meanwhile, dozens of brands and organizations are also celebrating 4/20 with a variety of promotions, events and calls to action.

Schumer Worries Senate Marijuana Banking Vote Could Undermine Broader Legalization Push

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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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