In lockstep with a growing number of legislators across the country, Republican state lawmakers in New Mexico want recreational marijuana to be legally sold in stores, but with a unique big-government twist: in what would appear to be a first in the United States, they’re proposing that the state government own and operate cannabis dispensaries.
Medical marijuana has been legal in New Mexico for more than a decade, but with new Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s encouragement, legal cannabis commerce is growing significantly—and is accompanied by a growing chorus in support of outright legalization.
A bill in the state House of Representatives backed by Democrats, which would legalize marijuana for all adults 21 and over, was recently approved by a committee.
As the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, a competing marijuana legalization proposal in the Senate, introduced on Thursday by Sen. Mark Moores (R) and co-sponsored by two colleagues, including a Democrat, would follow a similar model to how alcohol is sold in at least two other U.S. states.
In Utah and New Hampshire, hard alcohol is available only at state-run liquor stores, Moores told the newspaper. Pointing out the obvious—New Mexico is next door to Colorado, where recreational cannabis has been legal for half a decade, and where border towns like Trinidad, Colorado have dozens of marijuana retail stores catering to visitors from other states like his own—Moores observed that legalization is inevitable.
“It’s just a matter of how we do it,” he said. “We should do it in a smart way.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what benefit—aside from putting a serious kibosh on the prospects for a marijuana industry in New Mexico—Moores hopes to provide by limiting sales to government-run outlets.
In Canada, where recreational marijuana went on sale in October, some provinces, including New Brunswick, allow sales only at government-run retail locations, according to CBC. Other provinces allow private commercial operators to sell marijuana online and at brick-and-mortar locations without appreciable ill effect.
In Uruguay, legal marijuana sales are limited to private pharmacies as opposed to separate, marijuana-only retail stores.
The New Mexico proposal would be a new model for the United States. In nearby Nevada as well as California, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, where recreational marijuana is legal and available in stores, it’s sold at government-regulated, privately run businesses.
The closest analogue seems to be found in North Bonneville, Washington, which is the first and only city to open a government-run dispensary in the country. Faced with the prospect of bankruptcy, the city’s mayor launched the cannabis shop in a last-ditch effort to amass badly needed revenue.
In New Mexico, excluding entrepreneurs like Duke Rodriguez, president of Ultra Health LLC, the state’s largest medical marijuana company, seems a discordant move for an ostensibly business-friendly Republican.
New Mexico has been a reliably blue state in recent presidential elections, but like many other states in the West, it also has a deep, small-government libertarian streak.
With that in mind, Rodriguez isn’t sure if New Mexico’s state government is up to the task of running what’s become a billion-dollar industry in other states.
“The state has problems sending [medical cannabis] cards on time,” he told The New Mexican. “Are they really ready to build and open a couple of hundred stores across the state?”