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New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Law Officially Takes Effect

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New Mexico’s marijuana legalization law took effect on Tuesday, with limited personal possession and cultivation officially becoming legal for adults 21 and older.

People can now lawfully possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of concentrates and grow as many as six mature plants for personal use. But it will still take some time before retail sales launch.

New Mexico is the first of three states where adult-use legalization laws are set to take effect this week. Next up are Virginia and Connecticut, which both have new policies ending cannabis prohibition coming into force on Thursday.

In New Mexico, under a timeline published by the Cannabis Control Division, which falls under the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, regulators must establish an advisory committee and begin accepting certain marijuana business licenses no later than September 1.

By January 1, 2022, the division must issue licenses to qualified commercial cannabis companies and begin to license marijuana training and education programs. Retail marijuana sales must begin by April 1, 2022.

Regulators will hold the first public hearing on cannabis production rules on Tuesday.

“After decades of people being arrested for simply possessing cannabis or growing a few plants, New Mexicans are finally able to exhale,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director for resident states and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “But make no mistake, this fight isn’t over. We still have our work cut out for us to fully repair the damage that has been done as a result of prohibition, and that means advocating for equity and diversity in the new industry and coming back during the 2022 budget session to ensure funds are made available for critical reinvestment in the communities that have been most harmed.”

There is no set 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.”

Cannabis purchases will include a 12 percent excise tax on top of the state’s regular eight percent sales tax. Beginning in 2025, the excise rate would climb by one 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 cannot ban cannabis businesses entirely, as some other states have allowed. Municipalities can, however, use their local zoning authority to limit the number of retailers or their distance from schools, daycares or other cannabis businesses.

Polling indicates New Mexico voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found a strong majority of residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support the decriminalization of drug possession more broadly.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) gave final approval to the cannabis legalization legislation in April, fulfilling a key goal for her administration. She had to convene a special session to ensure that lawmakers got the job done after they failed to pass legalization during the regular session.

A separate, complementary bill providing for expungements for convictions made legal under the marijuana legalization law was also passed during the special session and signed by the governor. Under it, courts must begin reopening qualifying cases within 30 days after the legislation goes into effect on January 1, 2022.

Regulators launched a website to provide information about legalization before the governor even signed the bill into law.

Lujan Grisham 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 came 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.

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 was open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers didn’t send a legalization bill to her desk.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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