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New Mexico Republicans Say Legalize Marijuana, But Let The Government Sell It

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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?”

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Chris Roberts is a reporter and writer based in San Francisco. He has covered the cannabis industry since 2009, with bylines in the Guardian, Deadspin, Leafly News, The Observer, The Verge, Curbed, Cannabis Now, SF Weekly and others.

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