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New Mexico Lawmakers Vote To Fund Drug Treatment With Marijuana Revenue, Then Quickly Reverse Decision

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Legislative committees zigzag, voting the cannabis-supported treatment funding in, then voting it back out.

By Austin Fisher, Source NM

A Senate panel on Tuesday night voted to tie part of the state’s tax revenue from cannabis sales to addiction treatment. But minutes later, another Senate committee reversed that call and took the measure out.

The sprawling $201 million anti-crime package, now contained within House Bill 68, includes some money for addiction treatment, but “it’s peanuts,” Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Las Cruces) told the Senate Finance Committee.

“What we really need, colleagues, is we need increased, sustained, recurring funding for substance misuse that levels to the size of the challenge,” Steinborn said. He said substance misuse is probably the biggest root cause of crime in the state.

Steinborn said even with what he is proposing, it would be a drop in the bucket of the state’s needs. There were about 134,378 New Mexicans who needed but did not have access to substance use disorder treatment in 2018, representing 65 percent of all people in the state who suffer from some kind of substance use disorder, according to the state Department of Health.

“This is really something that all of New Mexico needs,” Steinborn said.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 10-1 in favor of his amendment, which would have set aside 10 percent of the state’s excise tax for cannabis to create a new substance misuse treatment fund. The only dissenting vote was Sen. William Burt (R-Alamogordo), who was attending virtually and didn’t have a copy of the amendment in front of him.

The Human Services Department would then be able to match that funding using money from Medicaid to make the cannabis revenue go further, Steinborn said.

“I talked to the sponsors. I would have hoped they would have incorporated it into their package,” Steinborn said. “Their choice not to. And our choice to do something bold to really move the needle on crime in the state.”

The state already charges a liquor excise tax, and about 42 percent of that tax revenue goes to the DWI treatment fund, Steinborn said.

Several other states including Oregon, he pointed out, have designated their cannabis taxes to go toward treatment.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces), the sponsor of the crime package, opposed the amendment and said the reason he did not include it because it creates a new fund, which would have had to be deemed germane for the short session, either through an executive message from the governor or some other means.

“We’re the Finance Committee. It’s totally in our realm to make this commitment,” Steinborn said.

After the vote, Cervantes said legislative staff told him there is a concern about Steinborn’s amendment that makes the crime package subject to a line-item veto by the governor.

Sen. Nancy Rodriguez disagreed by saying since the appropriation is not immediate and would merely impact predicted revenues from the cannabis excise tax, and not the state’s main pot of money called the General Fund, so it’s not an appropriation that would have that impact now.

“I’m not sure truly how that would be seen as a current appropriation,” Rodriguez said. “Usually, appropriations that we see impact are for the current expenditures of the General Fund.”

Senate Finance Committee Chair George Muñoz (D-Gallup) asked Steinborn if he is willing to risk giving the governor veto authority over the crime package.

“I am, because I think it’s actually one of the most important parts of the bill, frankly,” Steinborn said.

The committee then went into an “unofficial recess,” as Sen. Nancy Rodriguez put it, during which they met in the room behind the Senate Finance Committee dais. A final determination was never announced in the committee hearing, and the senators just returned to the Senate Floor.

Cervantes told the Finance Committee he supported its vote in favor of the amendment. However, less than an hour later, Cervantes convened his Senate Judiciary Committee, which then voted to adopt a version of the language for the crime package that did not include Steinborn’s amendment to fund substance use treatment, according to a spokesperson for Senate Democrats.

Steinborn could still bring the issue to the Senate floor. The session is scheduled to end Thursday at noon.

This story was first published by Source NM.

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