New Mexico lawmakers approved a bill to legalize marijuana for adults during a special legislative session on Wednesday, sending the years-in-the-making legislation to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who is expected to sign it into law. Lawmakers also passed separate legislation to expunge past convictions for low-level cannabis crimes.
Legal retail sales of cannabis are scheduled to begin by April 1, 2022.
“This is a significant victory for New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said after the vote. “Workers will benefit from the opportunity to build careers in this new economy. Entrepreneurs will benefit from the opportunity to create lucrative new enterprises. The state and local governments will benefit from the additional revenue. Consumers will benefit from the standardization and regulation that comes with a bona fide industry.”
“And those who have been harmed by this country’s failed war on drugs, disproportionately communities of color, will benefit from our state’s smart, fair and equitable new approach to past low-level convictions,” she said.
✅ House Bill 2, legalizing recreational cannabis, has received final legislative approval and heads to my desk!
This is a significant victory for New Mexico and my signing pen is ready.
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) April 1, 2021
The legalization bill, HB 2, passed the full Senate on a 22–15 vote Wednesday night following hours of contentious discussion throughout the day. It then returned to the House, which had approved it 38–32 earlier in the day, for consideration of Senate changes. That vote passed by a voice vote.
The expungements bill, SB 2, passed both chambers in identical form earlier in the day.
Provisions in the two bills were originally part of a single piece of legislation, HB 12, that passed the House during the regular session but stalled on the Senate floor. Going into this week’s special session, backers spun off the criminal justice matters in an effort to win support from Republicans and moderate Democrats who complained the proposal as a whole was too broad.
The House has CONCURRED! #HB2 — The Cannabis Regulation Act is now on its way to @GovMLG's desk. Congrats to the amazing leadership by the bill's sponsors @JavierForNM and @ARomero_NM for your tireless work through multiple debates to get this bill across the finish line. pic.twitter.com/UObI1zA7fy
— NM House Democrats (@NMHouseDems) April 1, 2021
Before the full Senate vote, the body’s Committee of the Whole, consisting of all the chamber’s members, narrowly approved HB 2, voting 23–19. Lawmakers also considered a competing legalization proposal, SB 3, from Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R), who began circulating draft legislation last week. The Republican lawmaker’s bill took a simpler approach to legalization than HB 2, with lower taxes and a more streamlined licensing system.
The Committee of the Whole voted 36–6 not to advance the measure. Pirtle repeatedly complained that he had been cut out of the negotiation process dominated by members of the opposite party.
✅ House Bill 2, the Cannabis Regulation Act, has passed the House and heads to the Senate!
In addition to creating jobs and economic opportunities across the state, cannabis legalization will reduce harmful impacts to marginalized communities and improve community safety. pic.twitter.com/8GeJRVsM2R
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) March 31, 2021
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called this week’s special session primarily to push legalization across the finish line.
Here are some of the main provisions in the new legalization bill, HB 2, as amended:
— Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis concentrates and 800 milligrams of infused edibles. All products would be tested by licensed laboratories for contamination and potency.
— Home cultivation of up to six mature cannabis plants would be allowed for personal use, provided the plants are out of public sight and secured from children. Households would be limited to 12 total plants. Marijuana grown at home could not be sold or bartered.
— Legal retail sales wouldn’t begin for another year or so, with a target date of April 1, 2022 or earlier. Final license rules would be due from the state by January 1, 2022, with licenses themselves issued no later than April 1.
— Advertising cannabis to people under 21 would be prohibited, with the use of cartoon characters or other imagery likely to appeal to children forbidden. Advertisements would also be barred from billboards or other public media within 300 feet of a school, daycare center or church. All products would need to carry a state-approved warning label.
— There is no limit on the number of business licensees that could be granted under the program, or the number of facilities a licensee could open, although regulators could stop issuing new licenses if an advisory committee determines that “market equilibrium is deficient.”
— Small cannabis microbusinesses, which could grow up to 200 plants, would be able to grow, process and sell cannabis products all under a single license. The bill’s backers have said the separate license type will allow wider access to the new industry for entrepreneurs without access to significant capital.
— Cannabis purchases will include a 12 percent excise tax on top of the state’s regular 8 percent sales tax. Beginning in 2025, the excise rate would climb by 1 percent each year until it reached 18 percent in 2030. Medical marijuana products, available only to patients and caretakers, would be exempt from the tax.
— In an effort to ensure medical patients can still access medicine after the adult-use market opens, the bill allows the state to force licensed cannabis producers to reserve up to 10 percent of their products for patients in the event of a shortage or grow more plants to be used in medical products.
— Local governments could not ban cannabis businesses entirely, as some other states have allowed. Municipalities could, however, use their local zoning authority to limit the number of retailers or their distance from schools, daycares or other cannabis businesses.
— Tribal governments could participate in the state’s legal cannabis industry under legal agreements contemplated under the bill.
— With certain social justice provisions expected to be repackaged into a separate bill, the legalization measure retains only some of HB 12’s original equity language, primarily focused on enacting procedures meant to encourage communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the new industry.
— The new industry would be overseen by a newly created Cannabis Control Division, part of the state Regulation and Licensing Department. Medical marijuana would also be regulated by that division, although the Department of Health would control the patient registry.
— By September of this year, the state would establish a cannabis regulatory advisory committee to advise the Cannabis Control Division. The committee would need to include various experts and stakeholders, such as the chief public defender, local law enforcement, a cannabis policy advocate, an organized labor representative, a medical cannabis patient, a tribal nation or pueblo, various scientists, an expert in cannabis regulation, an environmental expert, a water expert and a cannabis industry professional, among others.
— The bill as amended now includes language that would allow medical marijuana patients who are registered in other states to participates in in other states to access, a proposal that failed to pass during the regular session.
A separate spending bill introduced for the special session, HB 1, includes funding to establish and oversee the state’s legal cannabis industry. That measure has passed both chambers.
Another bill, HB 4, would have tightened laws on cannabis and driving by establishing a per se THC blood limit for DUIs, as some other states have put in place. But the House Rules and Order of Business Committee voted 8–7 that the legislation was “not germane” to the special session.
Lawmakers spent hours on the House floor Wednesday rehashing many of the same issues that have been discussed for years around legalization. Advocates stressed that the change would ensure product testing and safety, set limits to discourage youth use of cannabis and bring millions of dollars in tax revenue to the state government.
Opponents, meanwhile, warned that legalization could influence more youth to consume cannabis and lead to an uptick in impaired drivers on New Mexico’s roadways. The bill’s supporters countered that many of those risks would be better addressed through legalization than criminalization, because products would be tested, sales would be limited to adults only and law enforcement would be trained to better recognize impairment and impaired driving.
“Cannabis is already here,” one of the bill’s cosponsors, Rep. Javier Martínez (D) said. “If this bill becomes the law of the land…we can ensure that we develop the mechanisms that prevent [youth] access to cannabis.” He noted that he himself is a father of two kids, saying, “I don’t want my children to consume any type of substance that will be harmful for them.”
“I think we have a good bill and a good framework and the ability to closely regulate,” Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D) told the Senate Committee of the Whole, “and in that process, as we discover things or need to change things, we can we can do that.”
Martínez drew attention to an October poll indicating that a strong majority of New Mexico voters are ready for the policy change. Some Republicans, however, said the poll results didn’t represent their districts.
NOW #HB2 – Cannabis Regulation Act is being heard on the House Floor. 74% of New Mexicans support legalization of adult-use cannabis and New Mexico has the opportunity to establish a legalization framework that is made by NMs for NMs.
— NM House Democrats (@NMHouseDems) March 31, 2021
Rep. Stefani Lord (R) voiced worries that people who use cannabis would not be allowed to own a gun. In addition to cannabis still being illegal at the federal level, a state law currently bars people from “carrying a gun while under the influence of an intoxicant or narcotic.”
“You have to make a decision,” Lord said: “Am I going to smoke pot, or am I going to lose my Second Amendment rights?”
The House adopted a pair of amendments to HB 2 before ending debate earlier on Wednesday, one that would add a municipal police chief to the state’s cannabis advisory committee, and another that would require government reports to study the law’s impact.
Another floor amendment, brought by Rep. Bill Rehm (R), would have established a $100-per-ounce fine for possessing products not obtained in compliance with adult-use or medical marijuana laws, but the House tabled that proposal, effectively rejecting it.
Rehm attempted and failed to add the same amendment just hours earlier, at the late-night hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Rehm is proposing this amendment a second time (he proposed this super early this morning in committee). It would add a penalty for obtaining cannabis illicitly. #nmleg pic.twitter.com/ucJRnzJbmo
— Andy Lyman (@Anjreu) March 31, 2021
Another amendment offered by Rehm was also tabled by the Democrat-controlled House. It would have made it a felony to intentionally distribute cannabis to minors.
During the Senate Committee of the Whole consideration, lawmakers approved an amendment that would prevent members of the House or Senate from obtaining a cannabis business license before July 2026.
Sen. Mark Moores (R) asked during the whether the bill’s supporters had financial interests in legalization. Both Martínez and Armstrong, the two House cosponsors who were present at the hearing, said they did not, nor did they have any plans to enter the cannabis industry in the future.
Duhigg, a legalization supporter on the Senate side who voted against the amendment, said she did not have any interest in the industry. She added, “I look forward to Sen. Moore also asking the same question of Sen. Pirtle when we are hearing Senate Bill 3.”
Pirtle said he was offended by Duhigg’s insinuation of wrongdoing. “I have consistently recused myself when there has been a direct conflict or chance of impropriety,” he replied. “I voted yes [on the amendment] because I have never supported a piece of legislation that would affect me financially in my career.”
The panel adopted the change over the objections of some members who said the rule sets a bad precedent given that New Mexico lawmakers are unpaid, volunteer legislators who generally hold other jobs.
The expungements bill, SB 2, saw several relatively minor amendments in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, most of which were technical changes to language that critics called unclear or unnecessary.
✅ Senate Bill 2 has received final legislative approval!
This important legislation accompanies the legalization of cannabis and will ensure that New Mexico ends the harmful long-term impacts of cannabis conviction records, enabling New Mexicans to build better futures. https://t.co/n226Iuxkhz
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) April 1, 2021
The measure would automatically erase past records of arrests or convictions for activity that would no longer be outlawed under legalization. People currently in custody for cannabis crimes would also be eligible for resentencing under the bill.
Among the more significant changes adopted in committee were a provision allowing people to petition for expungement anonymously, intended to avoid publicizing the charges being expunged. Another amendment adds human trafficking to a list of offenses that could allow state agencies to disqualify applicants for public employment or licensing.
✅ Senate Bill 2 has passed the Senate and heads to the House!
This legislation accompanies the Cannabis Regulation Act and ensures that New Mexico prioritizes social justice in the process of legalizing recreational cannabis, including expunging related criminal records. https://t.co/lTU5rkhQmD
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) March 31, 2021
Legislative leaders worked to hammer out a legalization deal throughout the state’s 60-day legislative session this year. Sponsors of at least five different original bills have tried to unify the conflicting proposals and incorporate feedback from colleagues. Going into the special session, HB 2’s sponsors have been working closely with the governor’s office to craft a final bill.
During the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, Pirtle made a final plea to colleagues to consider his alternative legalization bill, which he said was similar to a 2019 proposal that passed the House but failed in the Senate, legislation he noted had bipartisan support.
“It was something that was put together with two goals in mind,” he told the committee of SB 3, “and those goals were to basically eliminate the illicit market along with protecting the public safety of the state to the best that we could.”
Pirtle said HB 2 concentrates too much power in the state Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD). His bill would have split oversight among three departments: RLD would oversee licensing, while production would be under the Department of Agriculture and “all things that would be consumed” would be regulated by the Environment Department, much like how the state regulates hemp. Licensing would also be simpler than HB 2, with lower costs and a scalable cultivation license that would be based on how many plants a business grows.
House Republicans have repeatedly blasted Democrats who wrote HB 12 for not being more transparent in the process, while others have criticized the special session as unnecessary.
“The past sixty days have been defined by the Governor and Democrats silencing the voice of the people, and the silence has become deafening following the crash and burn of their pot bill” during the regular session, House Republican Leader Jim Townsend said in a statement Monday. “If legalizing marijuana is truly about the people, you would think that New Mexicans from all walks of life would have the opportunity to contribute to the process, especially when it failed so miserable at the last minute due to too many cooks in the kitchen.”
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.