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.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.