The governor of New Mexico announced on Wednesday that marijuana legalization is one of her administration’s 2021 legislative priorities.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) released her agenda for this year’s session, and part of her plan to bolster the economy and increase revenue to the state is to enact a legal cannabis market.
A outline of her proposal states that New Mexico should legalize marijuana “through legislation that protects the state’s medical cannabis program, provides for workplace safety and roadway protections and enforcement and clear labeling of products.”
My priorities for New Mexico's upcoming legislative session include delivering additional pandemic relief, fully funding early childhood education, legalizing recreational cannabis, and expanding and improving access to health care and behavioral health resources. #AllTogetherNM
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) January 13, 2021
Doing so will establish “an essential new revenue source for the state and employment source for tens of thousands of New Mexicans,” it says.
“New Mexico will recover from this challenging year,” the governor said in a press release. “The question is what kind of future we want to make for ourselves after we put these crises behind us.”
“We still have the power to decide what we will become. And the time to decide is this session, this year,” she said. “We can choose to return to the same-old, or we can set ourselves up to roar back to life after the pandemic, ready to break new ground and thrive.”
Lujan Grisham has been a strong advocate for reform, arguing since she was elected that marijuana legalization would represent a positive fiscal opportunity for the state, especially amid budget shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
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Marijuana legalization was also included as a legislative priority for the governor as part of the 2020 session. That didn’t materialize, however. A bill to legalize cannabis for adult use passed one Senate committee last year only to be rejected in another before the end of the short 30-day session.
Earlier, in 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it later died in the Senate.
Lawmakers seem intent on giving it another go this year. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D), for example, said earlier this month that cannabis legalization will be priorities on the legislative agenda for 2021.
“When it comes to responsibly regulating cannabis, it’s critical that we don’t just get this done, but we get it right,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of resident states and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Equity must be the guiding force, and we will continue to work with the governor’s administration and legislative leaders to ensure that legislation is comprehensive and reinvests back into communities most harmed by drug prohibition, particularly Hispanic/Latino, Black and Native populations in New Mexico.”
“The public wants legalization and is demanding equity to be an inseparable part of this new policy,” she said. “Repairing the damage done by the war on drugs is not negotiable for New Mexicans.”
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.
It’s possible that the strong support for cannabis legalization could further increase since voters in neighboring Arizona approved a ballot initiative to enact the reform in November. Also, cannabis is expected to be legalized across the border in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April 2021.
The legalization effort in the state may also get a boost from the results of primary elections last year in which several Democratic lawmakers who had opposed the reform were ousted by progressive challengers.
In May, Lujan Grisham 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.
Rep. Javier Martinez (D) who chairs a joint committee that held a hearing last year to discuss the economic impact of cannabis reform, said he’s hopeful that the policy change will be enacted this upcoming session and said he anticipates that “in this year’s version of the bill, we are very likely to get Republican support, particularly on the Senate side.”
The legislative session begins on January 19.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.