Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a late bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on November 24, 2019 and dropped out of the race on March 4, 2020.
The billionaire candidate, who runs the news and financial data company Bloomberg LP, is making the case that he’s best positioned to defeat President Trump in the 2020 election. Bloomberg has a long history of speaking out against marijuana law reform, and his record on discriminatory policing tactics as mayor has given advocates pause about his candidacy.
Bloomberg not only opposes legalization—putting him in a category of current candidates that includes only former Vice President Joe Biden—but called the policy change the “stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”
Since launching his presidential candidacy, however, Bloomberg has embraced decriminalization of cannabis possession and said that states should be able to set their own laws without federal interference.
Here’s a closer look at where the former mayor stands on drug policy.
This piece was last updated on March 6, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Bloomberg served three terms as mayor of New York City, beginning in 2002. While he changed parties throughout that time, one consistent factor under his administration was a high level of arrests for marijuana possession.
From 2002 to 2012, the NYPD made about 440,000 arrests for cannabis possession alone, collectively spending about one million hours processing those cases, according to a report from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). Overall, there were more marijuana arrests under Bloomberg than under the mayorships of Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani combined.
DPA paid particularly close attention to cannabis policy under Bloomberg, releasing reports year-over-year on arrest data, which peaked in 2011 despite the state having decriminalized low-level possession in the 1970s. The group also highlighted consistent racial disparities in cannabis arrests in the city.
The high volume of arrests prompted City Council members and activists to rally outside of Bloomberg’s home in 2011, demanding an end to the aggressive enforcement.
Bloomberg came out against a 2011 state bill, introduced by then-Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D) and Sen. Mark Grisanti (R), that sought to make possession of 25 grams or less of cannabis punishable by a court summons and fine rather than jail time.
“This would encourage smoking in the streets and in our parks, reversing successful efforts to clean up neighborhoods and eliminate the open-air drug markets like we used to find in Washington Square Park,” a mayoral aide told The New York Times. “Hot-spot policing that focuses on the most violent neighborhoods has led to dramatic reductions in violent crime. Marijuana arrests can be an effective tool for suppressing the expansion of street-level drug markets and the corresponding violence.”
The aide also said that concerns about the impact of a possession conviction on a young person’s record are overblown.
“They are not saddled with criminal records because those records are sealed,” he said, adding that there are restrictions on what employers can ask about prior convictions.
The next year, Bloomberg voiced support for a modest reform proposal that called for an end to arrests of people for possessing cannabis in public view, which advocates argued often stemmed from unlawful searches. The measure faced resistance from Senate Republicans, however.
During his State Of the City address in 2013, the mayor said he supported New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal to make cannabis possession a violation rather than a misdemeanor.
“We know that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record,” he said.
He also said the city “won’t wait for that to happen” and announced that people arrested for low-level possession in New York City would no longer be held overnight if they presented an ID and passed a warrant check.
“It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most,” he said.
Throughout Bloomberg’s terms, he faced sharp criticism over the police department’s widespread use of a controversial stop-and-frisk policy, whereby officers frequently detained people—the majority of cases involving people of color—and searched them. Weapons were rarely produced in these searches.
In 2013, the mayor vetoed two policing reform bills that were meant to cut down on police misconduct and rein in instances of stop-and-frisk. The first gave the inspector general subpoena power to study policing encounters and make policy recommendations, and the other allowed state courts to take up claims of “bias-based policing” and broadened the scope of offenses that could be litigated.
“Some of these things are life and death issues, like these two horrendous bills in the City Council and they’re going to put our police officers at risk and they’re going to put the public at risk and I’ve got an obligation to tell people that,” the mayor argued.
The City Council later overrode Bloomberg’s actions, however.
Before local lawmakers stepped in, Bloomberg ignited controversy after doubling down on his opposition to the reform proposals by stating, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say.”
Yes, he said it! This is Bloomberg defending his racist stop-and-frisk. When I posted this quote the other day some commenters couldn’t believe he said it. This is a video-as-proof culture. Well, here’s your video… pic.twitter.com/MdBdrcs4DY
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) November 26, 2019
On The Campaign Trail
In February, Bloomberg released a criminal justice plan that includes decriminalizing marijuana, commuting sentences and expunging records—but does not include legalizing cannabis. It says that decisions on cannabis laws should be left to states “for the moment” and that “further scientific study is required to assess the health effects of marijuana.”
During a debate that same month, the former mayor expressed concerns about legalizing cannabis, saying that “you should listen to the scientists and the doctors. They say go very slowly, they haven’t done enough research and the evidence so far is worrisome. Before we get all our kids—particularly kids in their late teens, boys even more than girls—where this may be damaging their brains, until we know the science, it’s just nonsensical to push ahead.”
But also he voiced support for expunging records and letting states set their own laws, adding that “we should not make this a criminal thing if you have a small amount. For dealers, yes. But for the average person, no.”
Asked in February whether his previous declaration that legalizing marijuana is “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done” meant that he thought voters in Colorado were dumb for approving it, the candidate said what’s “really dumb” is “putting people in jail for marijuana.”
The prior month, a top staffer for prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana stepped down to go work for Bloomberg’s campaign.
In a March interview, the former mayor discussed his past marijuana use and said he would support changing federal cannabis laws while also raising concerns that legalization could increase domestic violence and would mean letting “young people ruin their future.”
He told the Colorado Sun that “the science on marijuana urges a ‘go slow’ approach until there is better medical evidence of its health effects.”
Asked by Americas Quarterly about what it would mean for other countries to legalize marijuana, Bloomberg said he “will work with our partners to combat all illicit trade – including marijuana and other drugs smuggled into the U.S. No one should be arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Possession of small amounts should be decriminalized. And I won’t interfere with states that have legalized it.”
It was in December 2019, that Bloomberg first broke with his prior opposition to even modest cannabis reform and backed decriminalizing marijuana and allowing states to set their own policies.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Bloomberg has made it patently clear that he’s no fan marijuana legalization, repeatedly making dismissive comments about both the policy and cannabis consumers themselves.
The former mayor didn’t hold back during a speech before the Aspen Institute in 2015, when he called marijuana legalization “a terrible, terrible idea” and suggested that cannabis use is associated with reduced IQ.
But another part of that speech would later come back to haunt him after he entered the presidential race in particular. The recording also showed Bloomberg justifying controversial police tactics and defending the practice, as well as racially disparate marijuana arrests, by arguing that 95 percent of murderers and murder victims are black.
He was widely criticized for the comments when recording of the speech resurfaced, and he was pressed on it during a presidential debate.
Share this far and wide. Unless the mainstream media picks it up, it will be isolated to twitter. pic.twitter.com/Fm0YCi4ZRy
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) February 11, 2020
In January 2019, as most candidates were gearing up to propose bold drug policy reform plans, the former mayor said that rising rates of drug overdose deaths, which were primarily linked to opioids, demonstrated why marijuana shouldn’t be legal.
“Today incidentally, we are trying to legalize another addictive narcotic,” he said, referring to cannabis, “which is perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done. We’ve got to fight that, and that’s another thing that Bloomberg Philanthropies will work on it in public health.”
While speaking at Annapolis, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also blasted efforts to legalize marijuana, calling it "perhaps the stupidest thing we’ve ever done." pic.twitter.com/dN5sdJdYBt
— DJ Judd (@DJJudd) January 23, 2019
He made similar comments the week prior during a speech at the University of Toronto, arguing that ending prohibition at the national and local levels “doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“To go and encourage people—to make it easier for people to engage in a behavior that has a significant possibility of damaging people’s health—is just nonsensical,” he said. “This mad, passionate rush to let everybody do things without any research just isn’t something we would do in any other way.”
Also in 2019, Bloomberg shamed a father and son who passed away from an opioid overdose, calling them “not a good family” during a speech at a forum in Manhattan.
He went on to voice opposition to the marijuana legalization movement.
“And then we are going hellbent for whether in this country to legalize marijuana, another addictive drug, where we’ve never done the research to what it does to people,” he said. “Maybe, in the end, it’s going to turn out that it doesn’t hurt, but preliminary evidence shows it reduces a teenage user of marijuana’s IQ by 10 points and it doesn’t come back.”
Bloomberg said in 2013 that he doesn’t support cannabis legalization because THC potency has increased and because he thinks drug dealers would simply move on to selling other illicit products such as cocaine.
Three days before a 2013 New York state legislature vote to allow medical cannabis for individuals suffering from debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, Bloomberg made dismissive comments about marijuana’s therapeutic value.
“Yeah, right, medical, my foot,” he said. “Come on. There’s no medical—this is one of the great hoaxes of all times.”
He said in 2002 that the problem with legalizing cannabis for medical purposes is that it represents a “slippery slope” and that “using drugs is probably a terrible idea, from where it goes, and I am very much in favor of enforcing laws on the books.”
“I do not think that decriminalizing marijuana is a good idea,” he said.
”I’ve always thought if we don’t want to enforce laws on the books, we should remove them from the books. But when you have laws, you breed contempt if you don’t enforce them,” he said. ”And I’ve listened to a lot of people over the years discuss the decriminalization of some narcotics, particularly marijuana, and on balance, I would side with those that think it’s a bad idea.”
Bloomberg revealed the extent of his hostility to drugs in 2012 when he seemed to sympathize with Singapore’s use of the death penalty against people who sell drugs.
“In lots of places in the Far East, they have signs up, ‘Death to drug dealers,'” he said. “Think about the number of people who die from drug use here in this country. And yet we don’t take it seriously enough to dissuade people… Executing a handful of people saves thousands and thousands of lives.”
He added that he wasn’t necessarily endorsing extrajudicial killings of drug traffickers because such policies “don’t fit our definition of democracy.”
“I’m not suggesting we go kill ’em. But when you talk to people overseas, they can’t understand why we allow people to deal in drugs [that] are killing people,” he said. “The focus that they do have on protecting their people is something that we should think long and hard about.”
He also voiced skepticism about ending prohibition in that interview, stating that it’s “intriguing, but I don’t quite think I’ve ever quite gotten there, to support the legalization of drugs.”
In 2015, the former mayor peddled a debunked theory about cannabis use decreasing people’s IQ.
“What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 and 10 points lower than they would have been?” he said of efforts to legalize marijuana. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about it, and my girlfriend says it’s no different than alcohol. It is different than alcohol. This is one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.”
On his support for stop-and-frisk policing, Bloomberg had been largely unapologetic up until just before launching his presidential bid. After a federal court ruled in 2013 that the policy was discriminatory and mandated a change, the then-mayor held a press conference where he defended the tactic, arguing that it’s “saved lives” and helped reduce incarceration rates.
“We are the poster child that everybody wants to follow,” he said, adding that police “go to where the reports of crime are” and those places “unfortunately happen to be poor neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods.”
Bloomberg apologized for the discriminatory policy days before announcing his candidacy for president.
“I can’t change history,” Bloomberg said. “However today, I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong.”
Recently, the billionaire has invested his resources into another battle that’s generated pushback from reform advocates. He’s taken a strong stance in favor of bans on flavored vaping products—a position that advocates worry will encourage more people to obtain potentially dangerous products from the illicit market and also risk having former cigarette smokers return to the combustable form.
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) November 18, 2019
“Ten weeks ago, President Trump said he would ban flavored e-cigarettes that are causing an e-cigarette epidemic among children,” Bloomberg said in November 2019. “Today we learned that he walked away from his commitment and caved to tobacco lobbyists. American families deserve better. If President Trump won’t take steps to protect our children, then we need someone in the office who will.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
While it may come as a surprise given his record on marijuana criminalization and dismissive comments about consumers, Bloomberg is among the many Americans who have tried cannabis.
One year before launching his mayoral bid, Bloomberg was asked by New York Magazine whether he’s used marijuana and he responded, “You bet I did—and I enjoyed it.” The comment was used in an advertisement that the advocacy group NORML later took out in The New York Times and on buses.
He said in 2002 that he regretted making the comment, even though he acknowledged that “what I said back then was the truth.”
”In terms of, I had, certainly when I was younger, as I suppose most people in my generation, experimented. I never lie, so if somebody asked me a question, I told them,” he said. “Do I, in retrospect, wish I didn’t say it that day so they couldn’t quote it? Of course.”
Marijuana Under A Bloomberg Presidency
At a time when marijuana reform has become a bipartisan issue that’s advancing even in Congress, when all but one other Democratic candidate backs broad legalization and when a majority of states have legalized cannabis in one form or another, Bloomberg stands out as a vocal opponent of the reform movement.
And unlike Biden, who helped write some of the punitive anti-drug laws that advocates have worked for decades to reform and remains opposed to adult-use legalization, Bloomberg has so far given no indication that he’s evolved on the issue to back even modest reforms. While it’s possible that the candidate will be encouraged to lay out an updated position as the topic is raised on the campaign trail, it does not seem likely at this point that he would support efforts to change federal marijuana laws and may in fact obstruct such efforts if elected to the Oval Office.
New Psychedelics Reform Group Sets Sights On Congress As Movement Builds
The psychedelics reform movement has seen a wave of successes at the state and local level over the past couple years, but a newly formed group says the timing is right to take their activism to the next stage: Congress.
The Plant Medicine Coalition (PMC)—founded by the head of the Washington, D.C. campaign that got psychedelics decriminalization passed locally in November’s election—is a national organization that hopes to build upon what’s already been accomplished and bring the issue to Capitol Hill, in part by pushing lawmakers to approve federal funding for research into the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca.
They will also work to ensure the effective implementation of D.C.’s city-level policy change while supporting other local activists as they push to change laws governing natural or synthetic psychedelics.
Melissa Lavasani, PMC co-founder, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that while she was working on the Decriminalize Nature D.C. campaign last year, it “became apparent to me that there was a lot of work to be done here.”
“The psychedelic movement has had a very long history, but, you know, our federal government is still working on cannabis,” she said. “Who is speaking to the federal government about psychedelics? It just looked like this natural fit.”
Beyond being in the right place at the right time, Lavasani said PMC is also better positioned to get its foot in the congressional door because of connections she has with lobbyists at the government affairs firm American Continental Group. That includes Molly Ahearn Allen, who is also a co-founder of PMC.
The overwhelming support for decriminalization of entheogenic substances in the District of Columbia—where 76 percent of voters approved the proposal on Election Day—was a final sign for Lavasani that she needed to fully invest herself in this movement. She feels that the stories of personal wellness breakthroughs as well as scientific research into the therapeutic potential psychedelics that galvanized voters in D.C. could resonate with federal lawmakers, too.
“We really see PMC playing that role as the political hub of the psychedelic movement,” she said. “How can we bring in the stakeholders into the movement and put them in front of our federal lawmakers, packaged in a certain way where they actually give a shit about it? It’s a lot of work, but this is work that needs to happen if we want sweeping legislation passed and we want to create a system that works for everybody.”
One of the first steps the organization plans to take is to push for bipartisan, congressional appropriations language that would dedicate $100 million in research into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. At the very least, it would generate conversation among lawmakers, and if those dollars did produce studies, Lavasani said she’s confident the results would underscore the need to lift federal restrictions on these plants and fungi.
“Then you take the next step, and that next step is having conversations with very specific members in Congress whose local jurisdictions have already passed decrim measures in their cities and states,” she said. “We’ll say, ‘Hey, you appropriated these funds in 2021,’ or whenever it happens, hopefully, it’s this year. You have pressure on them at their constituency level. Their constituents are voting for these measures and they’re voting for plant medicine.”
In that way, there’s symbiosis between the local and national reform efforts. As more activists work to decriminalize psychedelics in cities and states across the country, the constituency grows and bolsters PMC’s chances of building congressional support.
It will likely be a steep task, however. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), whose state voted to legalize psilocybin therapy in November, is one of the only members of Congress to openly embrace psychedelics reform, for example. And when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attempted in 2019 to get a spending bill rider removed that she said inhibited research into these substances, many of her Democratic colleagues joined Republicans in rejecting the proposal.
But a lot has changed since that vote, with an ever-growing number of jurisdictions adopting decriminalization policies and public perception clearly shifting in favor of reform. By taking a strategic, bipartisan approach to their lobbying and consensus building, PMC says they can leverage the localized momentum and move Congress in the right direction.
PMC isn’t the only national group pushing for psychedelics reform.
Decriminalize Nature (DN), an Oakland-based activist group has been collaborating with local chapters across the country to get their model decriminalization initiative passed. After getting the policy change enacted in Oakland, DN has empowered advocates in Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Somerville, Massachusetts to follow suit—with hundreds of other activists expressing interest in doing the same in their own cities.
And the leaders behind Denver’s 2019 campaign to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms started SPORE last year, with similar goals to lead conversations about ending criminalization and promoting research nationally and even globally.
Lavasani says a key difference between PMC and DN is that her group isn’t necessarily promoting one model of reform over the other. Any move to loosen restrictions on psychedelics—whether that’s decriminalization, legalization for medical use or something else entirely—will get PMC’s backing.
Voters in Oregon, for example, approved a statewide ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin therapy in November, but DN came out against the measure weeks before Election Day, expressing concerns about equitable access to the substance under a medicalization model.
The new group, PMC, isn’t restricting its support to “natural” plant-and fungi-derived psychedelics, either, as DN has so far. Lavansani argues that the distinction is largely arbitrary, and that incorporating synthetic substances like LSD could improve access and prevent over-harvesting of entheogenic plans and fungi.
“PMC’s perspective is that there’s many roads to getting these plant medicines into people’s hands, and the community model isn’t the only option,” she said. “We support any reforms that move the needle forward.”
Further, Lavasani stressed, her group’s relationship with experienced lobbyists at ACG, which is working with PMC on a pro bono basis, means they have a “direct line to Congress,” giving them a unique advantage as they move to persuade lawmakers to take psychedelics reform seriously.
Marijuana Legalization Could Create $43 Million In Annual Tax Revenue, Delaware State Auditor Reports
Delaware could see tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year if it moves to legalize marijuana, a top statewide elected official said in a new report released on Monday.
The analysis from State Auditor Kathy McGuiness (D) found that Delaware could generate upwards of $43 million annually in revenue from taxing and regulating cannabis. The legal market could also create more than 1,000 new jobs over five years if the policy is enacted, according to the report.
“Forty-three million dollars in state tax revenue would be a boon to Delaware’s coffers,” McGuiness said in a press release. “That money could be used to plug budget holes in the short term and would continue to provide revenue for all kinds of important initiatives in the long term.”
Delaware is potentially missing out on more than $43 million in annual tax revenue by not legalizing recreational marijuana.
See how I got to that figure here:https://t.co/3xj5iOF0w4
— State Auditor McGuiness (@DEAuditor1) January 25, 2021
To come up with these estimates, the state auditor’s office looked at publicly available data and concluded that a regulated marijuana industry would grow to be a $215 million enterprise. And assuming marijuana is taxed at 20 percent, that would translate into $43 million in tax revenue.
“While our report focuses on the economic implications of legalization, such a move would surely be a positive step forward in reforming our criminal justice system,” the report states. “However, choosing instead to allow the sale of marijuana on the black market to go unregulated will mean Delaware will be left behind as other states realize the important economic, public health and social equity advantages that legalization provides. Now is the time for Delaware to legalize marijuana.”
“It’s our view that the action taken by other states to legalize the recreational sale of marijuana puts Delaware at a competitive disadvantage if we continue to ignore the economic potential that this could yield,” it continues. “No Delaware taxpayer wants to see cuts in essential services nor see the door closed to economic growth and good jobs when revenue options like this exist.”
Legalizing advocates welcomed the auditor’s report as more evidence that lawmakers should enact the policy change.
“The General Assembly should seriously consider legalizing and regulating cannabis for adults this year. Delaware’s neighbor, New Jersey, and 14 other states have already moved forward with this more sensible policy,” Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “The longer Delaware waits, the state will continue to miss out on a new source of jobs and revenue. It is past time to end prohibition in the First State.”
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said that legalization “will disrupt the illicit marijuana market, end low-level marijuana arrests, and create jobs and new revenue.”
“This has been the experience in other jurisdictions that have enacted legalization—none of which have ever repealed or even seriously considered rolling back their policies,” he said. “That is because these legalization laws are operating largely as voters and politicians intended and in a manner that the public finds preferable to the failed policies associated with criminal prohibition.”
The new state report also notes growing public support for legalization and the bipartisan nature of that trend.
“Statistics show that public opinion on allowing recreational marijuana for adult use has changed dramatically in the last few years, with a majority of Delawareans now supporting it,” McGuiness said. “The prohibition on marijuana has only led to a robust black market, which could be minimized by responsible and thoughtful legalization.”
The auditor’s estimate for job creation is based on an analysis completed in Virginia last year, which was required as part of a cannabis decriminalization bill that passed and is also being used to inform the state’s approach to adult-use legalization.
“Regulation is a key toward controlling commercially legalized marijuana for production, sale and consumption,” the report concludes. “Legalization done right in our view would allow Delaware to establish a policy framework to suppress the black market, curb usage through regulation for minors and collect revenue on a market demand that seems only to be increasing. It would also provide a new revenue stream and new potential for economic growth.”
“Each year that we fail to capitalize on this opportunity means more money could flow to neighboring states instead of being invested here. It is time Delaware pursue legalizing marijuana,” it says.
In 2019, a Delaware House committee approved a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use in the state, but it did not advance before the end of the session. Rep. Ed Osienski (D), sponsor of the measure, plans to reintroduced it in 2021.
Legalization legislation previously received majority support on the House floor in 2018, but procedural rules required a supermajority for it to pass and it didn’t meet that threshold.
While Gov. John Carney (D) is not in favor of legalization, he did sign two pieces of marijuana expungement legislation in recent years. In 2017 and 2018, a state task force met to discuss issues related to legalization, and the governor hosted a series of roundtable meetings about cannabis.
Carney’s predecessor approved a measure to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis in 2015.
As in other states without legalization on the books in the Northeast, regional pressures could come into play in 2021. Delaware borders New Jersey, where voters opted to legalize in November, as well as two other states where cannabis reform could shortly advance: Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“With neighboring states either legalizing it or considering doing so, taking action now is the only way to prevent Delaware from being at a competitive disadvantage in the future,” McGuiness said. “The First State cannot and should not be the last state to approve legalization in the region.”
Separately, in an effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, Delaware regulators announced in April that medical cannabis patients could access delivery services under an emergency program.
Read the new report on marijuana tax revenue in Delaware below:
New Mexico Governor And Senate Leader Say Marijuana Legalization Can Pass This Year
The governor of New Mexico and a top Senate leader are bullish about getting marijuana legalization passed this session, with both making recent comments about what they hope the soon-to-be-introduced legislation will accomplish.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who included the reform as part of her 2021 legislative agenda she released this month, said in a TV interview that she’s “optimistic” about cannabis reform adding that projections show the state gaining thousands of jobs and raising hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue.
“I’m still really optimistic about cannabis, which is 12,000 jobs,” she told KOB-TV, “and you know by the fifth year in operation, the projections are we would make $600 million a year.”
Also part of my plan for growing New Mexico's economy: legalizing recreational cannabis, which has the potential to create 11,000 jobs and create over hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
I look forward to working with the New Mexico Legislature this year to get it done.
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) January 22, 2021
But while the “large economic boost” that the governor expects legalization to bring is an important component, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers are also taking seriously the need to address social equity.
Watch the governor talk about cannabis reform, starting around 4:40 into the video below:
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D) said last week that he’s having ongoing conversations with multiple legislators who plan to sponsor legalization bills, and he’s conveyed to them that whatever piece of legislation advances must “address those fundamental underlying issues” of social justice.
In terms of process, the top lawmaker said it’s important for legislators to be talking about their respective bills early on to resolve as many differences as possible before the issue reaches committee or the floor. The failure to get those issues taken care of in a timely manner is partly why the legislature wasn’t able to pass legalization during last year’s short session.
A bill to legalize cannabis for adult use passed one Senate committee last year only to be rejected in another before the end of the 30-day session. Earlier, in 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it later died in the Senate.
“This year I know the legislators have been working very hard, shaping and crafting these bills, and that kind of from the ground up versus the top down approach that I think is needed for a legislation of this kind,” Wirth told the Growing Forward podcast that’s a joint project of NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS. “Again, we just can’t get it into a final committee in a place where it’s not really ready to go.”
Watch the senator majority leader discuss the legislature’s work to legalize marijuana below:
The new, post-election makeup of key committees has been helping to facilitate this dialogue and get ahead of disagreements, he said.
While Wirth said he expects some of the same voices coming out in opposition to the legislature’s push to enact legalization this session, he’s “feeling more confident” about passing the reform in the Senate this year.
Several anti-legalization Democrats, including the Senate president pro tem and the Finance Committee chair, were ousted by progressive primary challengers last year.
Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and where sales officially launched last week. New Mexico shares another border with Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use. Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April 2021.
Wirth said it’s important to make sure that adult-use legalization doesn’t come at the peril of the state’s existing medical cannabis program.
“I just think that it’s a program that’s really been a model for how it’s been rolled out, how it’s worked, and we want to make sure that it stays intact and is still a functioning program,” he said. “That’ll be another a big issue.”
With at least five legalization bills being prepared in the state, Wirth said, there will be plenty for lawmakers to sift through and negotiate this session. The majority leader noted that another question is whether to put marijuana tax dollars in the state’s general fund or to earmark it for specific programs.
Rep. Javier Martinez (D), who has consistently sponsored cannabis reform bills in past sessions, said recently that the “biggest change you’ll see in this bill, which is one of the main points of contention last year, was the creation of a number of different funds, earmarks, tax coming in from cannabis.”
In any case, there’s economic urgency to pass and implement a legal cannabis program. And while no bills have been introduced so far this session, lawmakers expect several to be released as early as this week.
“I’m hopeful that this is the year to get this done,” Wirth said. “I just think the longer we wait, the less of an economic impact it’s going to have, as all of our sister states around us in the country really reach in this direction at pretty high speed.”
Polling indicates that voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found that a strong majority of New Mexico residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly.
In May, the governor signaled that she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.
Photo by Kyle Jaeger.