A bill that would legalize marijuana in New Mexico suffered a major procedural defeat in a key Senate panel on Wednesday
About two weeks after the body’s Public Affairs Committee advanced the legislation, the Judiciary Committee decided to table it in a 6-4 vote.
With just over a week left before the current short legislative session ends, the bill now appears all but dead.
If approved, the legalization proposal would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It also contains social justice provisions such as automatic expungements for prior cannabis possession convictions and funding for community reinvestment. Home cultivation would not allowed. However, the bill does propose decriminalizing the cultivation of up to three plants and six seedlings, making the offense punishable by a $50 fine without the threat of jail time.
Senate Bill 115, the Cannabis Regulation Act, tabled in Senate Judiciary Committee meeting
— NM Senate Democrats (@NMSenateDems) February 13, 2020
“If we pass this bill we will have a mechanism very similar to what we use for other substances that are considered potentially dangerous: tobacco and alcohol” Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D), the bill’s lead sponsor, told the committee prior to the vote to table.
“Does the state of New Mexico want to leave it totally unregulated the way we have now?” he asked members.
But Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D), the committee chairman, spoke against the measure at length. He raised concerns with provisions around labor union influence on the marijuana industry and directing the state to subsidize medical cannabis purchases for low-income patients. He also took issue with the specifics of language allowing people with past drug convictions to obtain licenses.
Before the vote to table, Cervantes repeatedly said he thought the bill was poorly constructed and not ready for consideration, going so far at one point as to tell Ortiz y Pino that he didn’t think the senator knew what was in his own legislation.
While the panel could technically bring a revised version up at its next meeting on Friday, Ortiz y Pino seemed to concede that such a move is unlikely and instead suggested legislative leaders could focus on crafting a new proposal between the end of the current session and the start of the next one.
Even if the bill were to pass the Judiciary panel this week it would still have to then move through the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the floor, after which point it would also need to pass in the House by February 20.
The bill has been a top 2020 legislative goal for for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D).
The governor included legalization in an agenda she sent lawmakers last month for the short 30-day session and also discussed the need to establish a well-regulated and equitable cannabis market in her State of the State address.
“Legalized recreational cannabis in New Mexico is inevitable,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement following the bill being tabled. “The people of New Mexico have said they want it. A diversified state economy demands it. Poll after poll has demonstrated that New Mexicans want a 21st century economy and want cannabis to be part of it: New Mexicans want more chances to stay here and build a career here; we want justice for those convicted of low-level, harmless cannabis-related offenses; we want an industry with firm and clear regulations that will keep our roads and places of business and children safe.”
My statement on last night's disappointing committee vote to table Senate Bill 115, legislation that would have legalized recreational adult-use cannabis in New Mexico:#NMgov #NMleg #SB115 https://t.co/KKnfOHqk80 pic.twitter.com/EVYYzo9b2M
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) February 13, 2020
The Republican Party of New Mexico expressed skepticism about Lujan Grisham’s legalization plan in a tweet earlier during the committee’s Wednesday hearing.
“The governor has touted this bill as a means to raise revenue and jolt the New Mexico economy,” the post said. “Not true.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hear SB115, the Cannabis Regulation Act, which would legalize recreational marijuana. The governor has touted this bill as a means to raise revenue and jolt the New Mexico economy. Not true. It's unclear what the economic impact…
— New Mexico GOP (@NewMexicoGOP) February 12, 2020
In 2019, the state House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize marijuana and let state-run stores control most sales. The proposal later advanced through one Senate committee but did not receive a floor vote in the chamber. Lujan Grisham did sign a more limited bill to simply decriminalize marijuana possession that lawmakers approved, however.
After legalization failed to advance last year, the governor convened a working group to study the issue and make recommendations.
The panel held a series of hearings and released a report in October that said any legalization bill should include automatic expungements of past records and provisions to ensure equity in the industry for communities targeted by the war on drugs. It also said that home cultivation of marijuana by consumers should either be prohibited or licensed by the state.
In December, the governor’s working group released a poll showing overwhelming public support for cannabis legalization.
”I am disappointed but not deterred by tonight’s committee motion,” the governor said after the Judiciary Committee vote. “The door remains open. We will keep working to get it done. And ultimately we will deliver thousands of careers for New Mexicans in a new and clean and exciting industry, a key new component of a diversifying economy. We will deliver justice to the victims of an overzealous war on low-level drugs. We will protect our medical cannabis program and the New Mexico patients who rely on it for their medicine. I will keep working hard every single day to enact and serve the will of New Mexicans – on this and every other issue.”
A separate piece of cannabis legislation that would block out-of-state residents from registering for New Mexico’s medical cannabis program was approved by the Senate panel on Wednesday.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.