As the governor of New Mexico steps up her push to enact marijuana legalization, a House committee is set to take up two separate proposals to end cannabis prohibition at a hearing this weekend.
One bill that will be considered by the Health and Human Services Committee on Saturday incorporates social equity provisions sought after by advocates.
Introduced by Rep. Javier Martínez (D), it would allow adults 21 and older to possess “at least” two ounces of cannabis and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use. It would also create a system of regulated and taxed cannabis sales.
Of the four separate legalization bills that have been introduced in the New Mexico legislature so far this session, Martinez’s is the only one that includes provisions to automatically expunge prior cannabis convictions and use tax revenue from marijuana sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
The lawmaker’s proposal would require rules for the market to be implemented by January 2022. However, existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed to launch adult-use sales starting in October.
Some revenue from legal sales would be used to support a community reinvestment program for communities impacted by the war on drugs and to assist low-income medical cannabis patients.
“New Mexico is well positioned to lead the nation with an adult cannabis use legalization framework that protects our medical cannabis program and that rights many of the wrongs of the failed war on drugs,” Martinez told Marijuana Moment. “I look forward to robust debate over the next few weeks.”
Notably, the chair of the House panel taking up the bill this weekend is a cosponsor of Martinez’s bill.
The other piece of legislation scheduled for Saturday’s hearing, sponsored by Rep. Tara Lujan (D), is more limited in scope. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Personal cultivation would be prohibited, but growing up to three mature plants would be decriminalized, punishable by a $500 fine without the threat of jail time.
The language from Lujan’s bill is identical to separate legislation sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D) that was filed last week.
Meanwhile, Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R), who filed a legalization bill in 2019 that would have established a state-run market, also recently put out a reform proposal that would create a private commercial industry. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to two ounces of marijuana.
It’s not clear when those Senate bills will receive hearings.
Martinez told Marijuana Moment that he expects the House panel to hold votes on the bills at Saturday’s hearing in addition to taking testimony.
All four bills call for the establishment of a new body to regulate the adult-use marijuana program. Currently, the state Department of Health is responsible for overseeing the medical cannabis market, and those responsibilities would be transferred to either a new agency or committee under the proposals.
The bills are also largely similar when it comes to the proposed tax rate. They range from 16 percent at the lowest end to 20 percent at the highest.
But aside from Martinez’s bill, none of the other proposals contain robust social equity provisions.
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For her part, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) 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 this month 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.”
The governor also included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda that she released last month and said in a recent interview that she’s “still really optimistic about cannabis” this session.
That optimism is bolstered 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.
Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and where sales officially launched last week.
New Mexico shares another border with 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 April.
Earlier, in 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it died in the Senate. Later that year, Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.
This year, at least five pieces of marijuana legalization legislation in total are expected to be filed, according to a top lawmaker, and so what the program might ultimately look like is an open question.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D) said last month that he’s been having conversations with lawmakers about what needs to be prioritized in reform legislation. That includes ensuring that it promotes social equity and protects the state’s existing medical cannabis system.
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.
Last May, the governor 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.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.