An overwhelming majority of New Mexico voters—75 percent—support legalizing marijuana, according to a new poll released on Friday.
“In this day and age, getting 75-percent of people to agree on the day of the week is hard if we make it political,” said Pat Davis, an Albuquerque City Councilor who serves as chairman of the Governor’s Legalization Working Group, which commissioned the new survey. “For this many New Mexicans to say it’s time to do this is remarkable.”
“Support for legalization is stronger in New Mexico than any state polled this year.”
The polling found 73 percent support for legalization before voters were given any information about the topic at the start of the survey. But after they were read messaging arguments about the policy change, support ticked up to 75 percent.
The poll, which surveyed 1,055 likely 2020 New Mexico voters between November 26 and December 2, revealed some interesting facts about marijuana politics in the state:
- Support varies by partisan affiliation: Close to all Democrats—90 percent—support legalization. Independents aren’t far behind, with 81 percent support. Nearly half of Republicans—49 percent—are on board.
- Different arguments persuade legalization supporters and opponents: Pro-legalization voters are best persuaded by arguments that legal marijuana will create jobs and fund important services through taxes. Meanwhile, anti-legalization voters are best persuaded by arguments that cannabis has medical uses.
- Supporters and opponents want to spend tax money differently: Pro-legalization voters want cannabis tax revenue to go towards public education and mental health services. Anti-legalization voters also prefer funding mental health, but additionally want some to go to law enforcement.
- The messenger makes the message: Legalization supporters are more likely to be persuaded by doctors and medical patients. But opponents are more likely to be persuaded by law enforcement and religious leaders.
- Cannabis jobs are tempting: Almost half of voters know someone who wants to work in the legal cannabis industry. That interest increases for younger people—70 percent of voters under 35 want a cannabis job or know someone who does.
The polling, conducted by Change Research, was commissioned by the cannabis legalization working group assembled earlier this year by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who campaigned on her support for ending prohibition in 2018.
After holding public hearings throughout the summer and fall, the working group released a series of recommendations for how New Mexico should legalize marijuana. They include provisions for automatic expungement of cannabis convictions, tax exemptions for medical patients and social equity in business licensing.
New Mexico lawmakers will begin a short, thirty-day legislative session next month, and Grisham has called on the House and Senate to consider cannabis legalization. If the effort succeeds, New Mexico will be the 12th U.S. state to end marijuana prohibition.
Interestingly, though 73 percent of survey respondents supported allowing marijuana sales in their own cities or towns, only 39 percent claimed they would be “very or somewhat likely” to purchase it themselves.
“This is not a stoner-led movement,” said Davis, the working group chair. “This is real people who see an opportunity that we’re not taking advantage of.”
More surprising, a majority of voters—56 percent—do not want cities to be able to entirely opt out of selling cannabis. Even 12 percent of legalization opponents support this position, though 30 percent of supporters feel cities should be able to opt out of sales.
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives approved a marijuana legalization bill. But even with Grisham’s support, the legislation failed to receive a vote on the Senate floor after advancing at the committee level. Lawmakers were divided over last-minute changes added by Republican lawmakers that would have created a restricted system of state-run retail stores, among other provisions. The working group recommended that sales should be conducted by private, state-licensed retails outlets instead.
Although full legalization fell short in 2019, Grisham did sign into law a narrower marijuana decriminalization bill in April.
Grisham acknowledged that even with such strong popular support, getting marijuana legalization done in January will not be easy. “I think cannabis is going to be really hard—it should be,” she told The Albuquerque Journal. “That is not something to run into without being really clear… If I have it on the call, I’m serious about getting it passed.”
Read the full results of the New Mexico marijuana legalization poll below:
Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.
GOP Senator Presses Treasury Secretary On Tax Credits For Marijuana Businesses
A Republican senator recently pressed the head of the Treasury Department on whether marijuana businesses qualify for a federal tax benefit.
During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked about the “opportunity zone” tax credit, which is meant to encourage investments in “distressed,” low-income communities through benefits such as deferrals on capital gains taxes.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), whose state’s voters approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2018, told Mnuchin that businesses that derive more than five percent of their profits from things like alcohol sales are ineligible for the tax credit, but there’s “not a definition dealing with cannabis businesses.”
“Are they within that five percent amount or are they not at all because there’s a federal prohibition on cannabis sales?” the senator asked.
“I’m going to have to get back to you on the specifics,” Mnuchin replied.
“That’d be helpful to get clarity because there are cannabis businesses across the country that, if they fall in opportunity zones, they’ll need clarification on that,” Lankford said. “When you and I have spoken about it before—it’s difficult to give a federal tax benefit to something that’s against federal law.”
Lankford, who opposes legalization and appeared in a TV ad against his state’s medical cannabis ballot measure, has raised this issue with the Treasury secretary during at least two prior hearings. When he questioned whether cannabis businesses qualify for the program last year, he clarified that he personally does not believe they should.
While Mnuchin’s department has yet to issue guidance on the issue, he said in response to the earlier questioning that his understanding is that “it is not the intent of the opportunity zones that if there is this conflict [between state and federal marijuana laws] that has not been cleared that, for now, we should not have those businesses in the opportunity zones.”
Mnuchin has also been vocal about the need for Congress to address the lack of financial resources available to state-legal marijuana businesses. Because so many of these companies are forced to operate on a largely cash-only basis, he said the Internal Revenue Service has had to build “cash rooms” to store their tax deposits.
“There is not a Treasury solution to this. There is not a regulator solution to this,” he said during one hearing. “If this is something that Congress wants to look at on a bipartisan basis, I’d encourage you to do this. This is something where there is a conflict between federal and state law that we and the regulators have no way of dealing with.”
Last week’s Finance Committee hearing was centered around President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, which separately includes a provision calling for the elimination of an appropriations rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its fund to interfere in the implementation of medical cannabis laws as well as a continued block on Washington, D.C. spending its own local tax dollars to legalize marijuana sales.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients
The American Bar Association (ABA) approved two marijuana-related resolutions during its midyear meeting on Monday.
The group’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.
Under the banking resolution, ABA “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate business acting in accordance with state, territorial, and tribal laws.”
HOD Res 103D: Adopted. Urges enactment of laws to ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banks and financial institutions to provide cannabis-related services. #ABAMidyear
— American Bar Association (@ABAesq) February 17, 2020
ABA added that “such legislation should clarify that the proceeds from a transaction involving activities of a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider shall not be considered proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction involves proceeds from a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider, or because the transaction involves proceeds from legitimate cannabis-related activities.”
A bill that would accomplish this goal was approved by the House of Representatives last year, but it’s currently stalled in the Senate, where it awaits action in the Banking Committee. That panel’s chair, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) is under pressure from industry stakeholders to advance the legislation, but he’s also heard from anti-legalization lawmakers who’ve thanked him for delaying the bill.
“Passage of the [Secure and Fair Enforcement] Banking Act or similar legislation will provide security for lawyers and firms acting to advise companies in the industry against having their accounts closed or deposits seized,” a report attached to the ABA resolution states. “This will also foster the rule of law by ensuring that those working in the state-legalized legitimate cannabis industry can seek counsel and help prevent money laundering and other crimes associated with off-the-books cash transactions.”
“Currently, the threat of criminal prosecution prevents most depository institutions from banking clients, including lawyers, who are in the stream of commerce of state-legalized marijuana. This Resolution is necessary to clarify that such provision of legal and other services in compliance with state law should not constitute unlawful activity pursuant to federal law.”
The second marijuana-related resolution ABA adopted on Monday asks Congress to allow attorneys to serve clients in cannabis cases without facing federal punishment.
Text of the measure states that the association “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and explicitly ensure that it does not constitute a violation of federal law for lawyers, acting in accord with state, territorial, and tribal ethical rules on lawyers’ professional conduct, to provide legal advice and services to clients regarding matters involving marijuana-related activities that are in compliance with state, territorial, and tribal law.”
HOD Res 103B: Adopted as revised. Urges enactment of laws to ensure lawyers can provide legal advice and services for clients' legal marijuana-related activities. #ABAMidyear
— American Bar Association (@ABAesq) February 17, 2020
Such a change would provide needed clarity for lawyers as more states legalize cannabis for adult use. ABA’s own rules of conduct have been a source of conflict for attorneys, as it stipulates that they “shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.” Federal law continues to regard marijuana as an illegal, strictly controlled substance.
An ABA report released last year made the case that there’s flexibility within that rule, however, as “it is unreasonable to prohibit a lawyer from providing advice and counsel to clients and to assist clients regarding activities permitted by relevant state or local law, including laws that allow the production, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes so long as the lawyer also advises the client that some such activities may violate existing federal law.”
A new report attached to the resolution states that “statutory guidance is needed that explicitly ensures that attorneys who adhere to their state ethics rules do not risk federal criminal prosecution simply for providing legal counsel to clients operating marijuana businesses in compliance with their state law.”
“This Resolution accomplishes this elegantly by harmonizing federal criminal liability with States’ ethical rules regarding the provision of advice and legal services relating to marijuana business. If a state has legalized some form of marijuana activity and explicitly permitted lawyers to provide advice and legal services relating to such state-authorized marijuana activity, such provision of advice and legal services shall not be unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act or any other federal law.”
Last year, ABA adopted another cannabis resolution—arguing that states should be allowed to set their own marijuana policies.
Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market
The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.
While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.
Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”
“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”
“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”
One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.
Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”
Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.
In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.