New Mexico lawmakers on Saturday considered a pair of competing bills to legalize marijuana but failed to hold a vote after the hearing ran long. The committee will return to issue on Monday, when members are also expected to take up possible amendments to the proposals.
Lawmakers have introduced a bevy of legalization legislation so far in the state’s 2021 legislative session, which is approaching its midpoint and is scheduled to end on March 20. In addition to the two House measures weighed at Saturday’s three-hour-long Health and Human Services Committee hearing, three others have been filed in the Senate.
All five bills would legalize use and commercial sales of marijuana and set tax rates between 16 and 20 percent.
Of the two House proposals, the most comprehensive is HB 12, which stretches nearly 200 pages.
“We know that the war on drugs has been an utter failure,” Rep. Javier Martinez (D), the bill’s lead sponsor, said. “We know that this country and its perceptions to drug use is shifting, particularly with regard to cannabis.”
His bill would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, allow home cultivation of marijuana, regulate and tax the commercial industry and expunge past convictions for cannabis possession. Tax revenue would fund equity programs for Black and brown communities and support low-income medical marijuana patients.
It’s the preferred bill of advocates at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and other organizations because of the emphasis it places on social equity efforts to help communities that have been harmed by the war on drugs.
Emily Kaltenbach, DPA’s senior director of resident states and New Mexico, told Marijuana Moment that Saturday’s hearing was a good sign for legalization in general. “It shows that legalization will move forward in New Mexico,” she said afterward.
“The other thing that’s positive that came out of the committee today was that social equity and justice were front and center,” Kaltenbach added. “Both from legislators and the public reiterated how important it is for those provisions to be included in whatever bill moves forward.”
The second legalization proposal the panel considered was HB 17, a narrower bill supported by the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce (NMCCC) and other industry members. It would legalize commercial cannabis and set a flat 20 percent sales tax, which would fund state and local governments. Sponsor Rep. Tara Lujan (D) described the bill as “the most direct route to to a responsible way of legalizing cannabis for people over 21.”
The bill lacks the expungement and social equity measures that HB 12 has and only decriminalizes homegrow—growing up to three plants would carry a $500 fine, while growing more would remain a felony. Commercial production licenses would be limited, whereas HB 12 would forbid the state from capping production.
Ben Lewinger, executive director of NMCCC, warned lawmakers against trying to accomplish too much in a single bill.
“That’s what drove the approach of trying to include what is absolutely essential into a bill, with the very simple purpose of legalizing adult-use cannabis, protecting patients in the medical program and creating something that had the absolute best chance of making it to the governor’s desk,” Lewinger said, adding: “The industry as it exists now in New Mexico are the experts in the state on the business of cannabis.”
Kaltenbach at DPA, meanwhile, said HB 12 is the better bill.
“What was clear today is that House Bill 12 is the most robust bill that is widely supported,” she told Marijuana Moment. “It’ll come down to a few provisions here and there, but it’s pretty clear that House Bill 12 should be the vehicle in which this should move.”
During the question-and-answer portion of Saturday’s hearing, the industry representative also argued against allowing people to grow their own marijuana at home, saying that law enforcement would have difficulty ensuring people weren’t cultivating too many plants or selling their products into the illegal market.
Both House bills would eliminate taxes for patients in the state’s existing medical marijuana program.
— NM House Democrats (@NMHouseDems) February 13, 2021
A fiscal impact report estimates that Martinez’s proposal would generate nearly $16 million in revenue for the state every year, in addition to more than $7 million for local governments. Meanwhile, the Lujan bill is projected to bring in over $48 million for the state and more than $25 million for localities.
Before hearing public testimony, committee chair Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D), a cosponsor of HB 12, took informal polls of members of the public tuned in to Saturday’s hearing on Zoom, asking participants to indicate whether they support or oppose the two bills.
A majority said they supported both bills, but HB 12 was more popular. Of 87 votes, 81 percent supported HB 12. Seventy-one percent said they supported HB 17.
The panel adopted a substitute version of HB 12 that updates a number of the measure’s provisions. Among the more notable differences is the removal a requirement that consumers be able to prove that marijuana in their possession was purchased legally. It also deletes language limiting paraphernalia sales to legal cannabis stores.
The substitute bill also allows cannabis advertising on billboards. And it stipulates that all advertisements—on billboards or elsewhere—identify the parties responsible for their content and refrain from targeting minors.
Among other changes, the substitute bill would also ensure that tribal governments could participate in the new industry, and it would allow small businesses who obtain so-called microbusiness licenses to begin operating ahead of larger businesses in order to give them a head start.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two House bills is HB 12’s earmarks for social and racial equity spending. Supporters say that point is non-negotiable.
“I cannot stress this enough,” Martinez said Saturday. “Racial equity cannot be by the wayside.”
Members of the public spoke both for and against the bills, although most speakers favored legalization in general. Many emphasized the importance of racial equity in HB 12, while others argued the money should flow instead back to state and local governments, as in HB 17. Some also expressed concern at the lack of cultivation license caps in HB 12, worrying legal marijuana would flood the market. Others worried that the bill’s allowance of home cultivation would fuel illicit sales and put children at risk.
It appeared possible the committee could vote on the bills on Saturday, but lawmakers ran out of time after questioning from Rep. Stefani Lord (R), who quizzed colleagues and industry witnesses on all sorts of issues, including gun rights, youth access, water rights and equity access to licenses. Many of the issues had come up in past legislative discussions around legalization.
Following Lord’s questions, which ran nearly 30 minutes, Armstrong, the committee chair, said, “I think it’s obvious we won’t get to all the questions or a vote today.”
Lord apologized for taking so much of the committee’s time. “I just thought my questions were really important so that the public knows what the bill’s about,” she said.
On the Senate side, three separate legalization bills—SB 363, SB 13 and SB 288—are currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee.
SB 363 is similar to HB 12, while SB 13 is the companion bill to the more limited House bill, HB 17. SB 288, meanwhile, is a separate proposal from Republican Sen. Cliff R. Pirtle. It would prevent cannabis retailers from being within a mile of one another and would keep homegrow illegal.
Each of the five bills shares the same title, the Cannabis Regulation Act.
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It’s not yet clear when the Senate measures will be heard—or, if multiple bills with different provisions pass, how lawmakers would resolve those differences.
In an interview with the Santa Fe Reporter, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D), said Senate lawmakers would be watching Saturday’s House hearing to see how that chamber proceeds. Afterward, he said, “we’re going to have a conversation amongst all the sponsors to see if we can align everything and figure out what the structure is in a coordinated way.”
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D), meanwhile, told the podcast Growing Forward that he plans to coordinate on the Senate side in order to craft a single proposal.
At Saturday’s hearing, lawmakers stressed that the majority of the bills’ proposals are the same, noting that conversations will continue about specifics.
“I believe in the sausage-making that these bills will merge into a hybrid at one point,” said Rep. Roger Montoya (D), noting that he likes provisions in various bills.
Montoya also said he’d like to see an amendment to remove fines and fees for juveniles caught with marijuana. Montoya is the sponsor of HB 183, a separate measure to eliminate fines and fees for some juvenile crimes, and he said both House marijuana bills would be in conflict with that measure.
Sponsors of the bills said they would be open to working with Montoya to ensure the bills weren’t contradictory, but they weren’t able to discuss the details of amendments before the hearing ended and are aiming to sort the issue out by Monday’s meeting.
For her part, HB 17 sponsor Lujan said that “what it’s going to take to get this right for our state” is a collaborative approach “to bring all things together.”
Legalization has the support of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who included it as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and has repeatedly praised its potential to boost New Mexico’s economy, especially in light of the pandemic.
“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 said in her State of the State address last month. “That kind of thinking includes, of course, recreational cannabis and the tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in new revenue it will bring to our state.”
Rep. Andrea Romero (D) echoed that sentiment at Saturday’s hearing. “Why [legalization is] so critical this year,” she said, “and why it matters so much to New Mexico moving forward, is that we are in an economic tailspin as far as what’s happened post-COVID.”
Lujan Grisham supported a bill last year to legalize cannabis for adult use, which passed one New Mexico Senate committee only to be rejected in another. In 2019, after the House approved marijuana legislation to create a state-run cannabis sales system that ultimately died in the Senate, the governor created a working group to study legalization and issue recommendations.
The chances for legalization this year are boosted 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.
New Mexico is increasingly surrounded by legal cannabis markets. It shares a border with Colorado, the first U.S. state to legalize commercial marijuana sales, and also borders Arizona, where retail sales kicked off last month.
“We know that legalization of adult-use cannabis is coming,” Martinez said at Saturday’s hearing. “It’s not a matter of if it’s a matter of when. And I’m not just talking about here in New Mexico, I’m talking across the country.”
Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border, in Mexico, where national lawmakers are facing a Supreme Court mandate to end marijuana prohibition by April.
Polling indicates that New Mexico 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.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson
Disagreements Threaten Virginia Marijuana Legalization Deal As Deadline Approaches
Conference committee members are divided over a proposed delay in regulatory decisions until next session, but have reportedly settled on delaying legalization of cannabis possession in any case.
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
With a Saturday deadline approaching, state lawmakers in the House and Senate are still working to resolve differences over landmark legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana in Virginia.
As of Thursday evening, it was unclear whether the two chambers would be able to reach an agreement on the bill, which Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has made a priority in his final year in office.
At least one lawmaker privately doubted the legislation would pass. Others, however, remained optimistic even as they acknowledged negotiations had grown tense, suggesting a vote was possible as early as Friday.
According to five sources familiar with the talks, the primary point of contention is language sought by the Senate that would delay decisions about how the new market is regulated until next year. Members of the chamber said during hearings last month they felt the legislation was too expansive and complex to complete work on during the 45-day session.
Lawmakers in the House have resisted, arguing the delay is unnecessary, citing in-depth studies conducted by legislative analysts and Northam’s administration. House lawmakers have also expressed discomfort about voting to legalize the drug without finalizing plans for a legal marketplace, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations.
If a bill does emerge from the conference negotiations, it’s likely to disappoint civil rights advocates who have been pushing for an immediate end to criminal penalties related to the drug.
Both the House and Senate passed legalization bills that wouldn’t allow sales of recreational marijuana to begin until January 1, 2024—time both sides agree they need to set up a new cannabis authority to regulate the industry.
But they have differed over whether criminal penalties related to the drug should stay in place until legal sales begin. The House advanced legislation that wouldn’t end prohibition until 2024 while the Senate proposed legalizing possession of an ounce or less of marijuana beginning July 1 of this year.
The House, whose members worried that repealing criminal penalties before legal sales are permitted would encourage the black market, appear to have won the debate, with Senate negotiators agreeing to maintain existing criminal penalties until 2024, according to the sources.
The approach stands in contrast to a legalization bill signed by New Jersey’s governor on Monday, which immediately ended criminal penalties for possession of up to six ounces even though retail sales aren’t expected to begin until 2022 at the earliest.
Advocates had called the Senate’s position the minimum the legislature could do to address criminal penalties before the retail marketplace opens. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, who proposed it, said it didn’t make sense to continue prosecuting people for something lawmakers had voted to legalize.
“We can’t risk more people being caught in the system for acting in ways that will soon be legal,” wrote a coalition of 25 advocacy organizations led by the ACLU of Virginia and the reform group Marijuana Justice.
Lawmakers skeptical of repealing criminal penalties before there are legal avenues to buy the drug have said they view the decriminalization legislation they passed last year, which reduced penalties for simple possession to a $25 civil fine, an adequate interim step.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, director of Marijuana Justice, countered that the approach unnecessarily allows the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws against Black Virginians to continue for three years. She said court data obtained by advocates shows that even with reduced fines, Black people are four times more likely than White people to face citations despite using the drug at the same rate.
“The commonwealth’s ‘decriminalization’ enforcement maintains Virginia’s racial disparities and goes against Governor Northam’s stated commitment to social equity, racial equity, and economic equity for marijuana legislation,” she wrote in a statement.
The two chambers are continuing to debate another focus for advocacy groups: how to treat people under 21 caught with the drug. As drafted, the Senate’s version would dramatically increase penalties for underage users caught with the drug, increasing the civil penalty for possession from $25 to $250 for people ages 18 to 20. Minors would face a $200 civil penalty for a first offense.
Valerie Slater, the director of RISE for Youth, which advocates for reforming the state’s juvenile justice system, said she favors the House’s approach, which would also increase penalties for underage possession, but only on subsequent offenses.
But she pointed to New Jersey’s new law as a better alternative, which calls for a written warning for a first offense, a call to parents for a second offense and referral to community services for a third offense. Members of the state’s Black Legislative Caucus opposed fines, worrying “police would continue to stop and fine minority youth more frequently than White people under 21,” according to The Star-Ledger.
“At no point should this be a crime for kids,” she said. “Can we just take New Jersey’s language and drop it into ours? It would be ideal.”
Kansas Governor’s Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced As Lawmakers Take Up Separate Legalization Proposal
A bill championed by the governor of Kansas to legalize medical marijuana and use the resulting revenue to expand healthcare was officially introduced on Wednesday. The move comes as lawmakers held back-to-back hearings on separate reform legislation this week.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D) has pushed for legalizing medical cannabis and using that revenue to support Medicaid expansion, and now Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) has filed a measure to do just that. He introduced it in the House Federal & State Affairs Committee, where members heard testimony on the separate legalization bill on Wednesday and Thursday.
“By combining broadly popular, commonsense medical marijuana policy that will generate significant revenue with Medicaid expansion, all logical opposition to expansion is eliminated,” Kelly said at a press briefing on Wednesday. “This bill just makes sense.”
Watch the governor discuss the medical cannabis and Medicare expansion bill, starting around 6:16 in the video below:
“In the face of the worst public health crisis our country has seen in a century, I’m even more committed to delivering healthcare and jobs and support for our hospitals through Medicaid expansion,” she said. “I urge the legislature to take Representative Woodard’s proposal seriously and to also consider the implications if they should fail to pass expansion yet again.”
Under Woodard’s bill, a draft version of which was shared with Marijuana Moment, there would be 21 medical conditions that qualify patients for cannabis—including cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic or intractable pain—and regulators would be able to add additional conditions later.
— Brandon Woodard (@Woodard4Kansas) February 24, 2021
The secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would be responsible for developing regulations for the program by July 1, 2023. That includes setting a standard for a 90-day supply of cannabis that a registered patient could possess. It would then be tasked with issuing patient and caregiver registrations and identification cards.
The director of Alcoholic Beverage Control would have its own role in the program, issuing licenses for marijuana “cultivators, laboratories, processors, distributors and retail dispensaries.”
“For too long, the Kansas Legislature has ducked the topic of legalizing medical cannabis. An overwhelming, bipartisan majority of Kansans support medical marijuana, as well as Medicaid expansion,” Woodard told Marijuana Moment. “It’s time to expand healthcare coverage to more than 100,000 Kansans, while giving Kansans the opportunity to use a legal, compassionate therapy to treat a variety of conditions.”
“Whether Kansas chooses the path of legalization of medical, recreational, or something in between, I’m glad that the conversation is finally happening and the people of Kansas are watching,” he said.
While the representative’s bill would make it so Kansas would join the vast majority of states that have legal medical marijuana markets, it is restrictive as far as advocates are concerned. It would, for example, prohibit smoking or vaping cannabis. And it sets a 35 percent THC limit for marijuana flower. Home cultivation by patients would not be allowed.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.
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The governor first announced a plan at the beginning of the month to enact medical marijuana legalization and use cannabis tax revenue to fund Medicaid expansion. And she said more recently that she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
The Federal & State Affairs panel started debate this week on a separate medical marijuana legalization bill that’s been introduced this session, sponsored by the committee itself. Supporters and opponents of the reform testified on the proposal on Wednesday and Thursday, and advocates anticipate it will get a vote in the next 10 days before heading to the floor.
The first hearing consisted of those who favor the policy change, including a veteran, health care worker and former state lawmaker. The second involved testimony from neutral or opposing parties.
Former state Rep. Willie Dove (R) urged the committee not to “take this for granted.”
“We’re not talking about hippies from the 60s. You’re talking about individuals, law-abiding citizens, that really want to make something happened for their families,” he said. “And I would like to say that the revenue generated from this will be greatly appreciated in Kansas because it does help our bottom line.”
Like the Kelly bill, the committee-sponsored legislation lists 21 conditions that would qualify patients for the program, including chronic pain, HIV and post-traumatic stress disorder. Smoking and vaping products would be prohibited, however. It would also not provide for home growing.
“Veterans of all ages and ideologies are in favor of medical cannabis more than any other demographic,” George Hanna, codirector of Kansas NORML and a veteran, said. “Every veteran’s organization, representing every generation and political perspective, has overwhelmingly come out in support of safe access. I personally have had several physicians, within the VA itself, privately support medical cannabis.”
The opposing testimony on Thursday touched on a variety of talking points—that the scope of the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana is too large, legalization would increase youth access to cannabis, THC concentration levels are too high and ingestion by pregnant women or adolescents is dangerous.
But industry stakeholders with the Kansas Cannabis Business Association (KCBA) told Marijuana Moment that the testimony, particularly from law enforcement representatives, was notably “negligent and dispassionate, with most of their concerns rebutted by [Chairman John Barker (R)] on the spot.”
“Essentially the message was, ‘if 30 other states have found solutions to those problems, you can too,” KCBA’s Erin Montroy said.
A separate medical cannabis legalization bill was introduced by the Senate Commerce Commerce this month, though it has not seen action.
The measure’s language largely reflects legislation that was introduced in the House last year. Patients would be eligible for medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation if they have a condition that significantly inhibits their ability to conduct daily activities or if the lack of treatment would pose serious physical or mental harm.
Registered patients would be allowed to grow and possess at least four ounces of marijuana. The bill would also establish a Kansas Medical Cannabis Agency to oversee the program.
Read the draft text of Woodard’s medical cannabis legalization bill that he’s carrying for the governor below:
Montana Lawmakers Weigh Bill To Limit Marijuana Businesses
The committee also considered legislation on employment protections for medical cannabis patients.
By Keila Szpaller, The Daily Montanan
Glenn Broughton grew his medical marijuana business from a small storage shed to an operation that employees nearly 30 people, and if he’s shut down, he said he’ll go bankrupt.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life of what is going to happen to me at a pen-stroke,” said Broughton, who operates in Missoula, Lolo and St. Regis.
The business owner testified Wednesday before the House Business and Labor Committee against House Bill 568. The bill would allow roughly 115 marijuana dispensaries in the state—or not more than one per 10,000 people in a county, but 10 maximum—compared to the 355 medical dispensaries that are currently open.
No members of the public spoke in favor of the legislation.
In November, voters passed an initiative that legalizes recreational marijuana by 57 percent, and the Montana Department of Revenue anticipates accepting license applications in October.
Sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, the bill would limit dispensaries to be no closer than 1,000 feet from a school, daycare, place of worship, park or playground. It also would limit dispensaries to one per 10,000 residents in a county or up to 10 dispensaries maximum in one county.
“The people of Montana have asked us to have recreational marijuana in our state,” Sheldon-Galloway said. “My bill is just asking for some sideboards.”
Opponents, though, argued the sideboards would “squash the little guy” and favor massive operations flush with cash over smaller homegrown businesses. They also said the prohibitions go too far to realistically implement.
Sam Belanger, who said he read Montana’s marijuana legalization bill from cover to cover, told the committee he didn’t think the location restriction of 1,000 feet as the crow flies—rather than 500 feet and on the same street—would work in cities and towns.
“It eliminates almost all viable options for any dispensary in the state inside municipalities,” said Belanger, of Ronan.
Kate Cholewa, a cannabis advocate who has worked on related legislation in Montana, said the math simply doesn’t pencil out. When medical users were “tethered,” or tied to a specific provider, she said a business with 200 customers could make a good living.
With proposed limits, providers would have six times those customers. She also wondered who would be deciding who gets the the small number of licenses that would be available if the bill is enacted.
“This is just an invitation to problems and corruption,” Cholewa said.
Pepper Petersen, president of the Montana Cannabis Guild, said one of the reasons he helped draft Initiative-190, the legalization bill, is that recreational marijuana can generate tax revenue for the state.
“Most of that coal economy is gone. We need a replacement for that money,” Petersen said.
He estimated the revenue for state coffers could hit nearly $100 million a year for both recreational and medical marijuana. A study from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana estimated a 20 percent tax on recreational marijuana could result in $43.4 million to $52.0 million a year from 2022 to 2026.
As part of her argument in favor of the bill, Rep. Sheldon-Galloway pointed to the relatively high use of marijuana among Great Falls middle and high school students compared to the state average. In Alaska, she said school suspensions for marijuana increased 141 percent after legalization.
Chuck Holman, though, said Montanans don’t want more regulations, and Cascade County needs to deal with its own problems.
“That county needs to address it themselves,” Holman said.
Wednesday, the committee heard a separate bill related to medical marijuana, House Bill 582.
Sponsor Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen, D-Helena, said he brought the bill forward because one of his constituents told him she lost her job because of her use of medical marijuana for a debilitating condition.
He said the bill wouldn’t allow the use of medical marijuana on the job, but it would prevent an employer from barring a person from using medical marijuana off the job for a medical condition.
Several opponents argued the bill wouldn’t make sense for industries where employees operate heavy equipment or must have a CDL, a commercial driver’s license. Jason Todhunter, with the Montana Logging Association, said logging is a highly hazardous industry, and some employers choose to conduct drug testing.
“This would muddy the waters on what we could check for,” Todhunter said.
The committee did not take action on either bill on Wednesday.