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UPDATE: New Mexico Legislature approves legalization of recreational marijuana

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SANTA FE, N.M (AP) — New Mexico’s Legislature has approved the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older in a bill that the governor plans to sign, extending the legal cannabis market across the American Southwest. The state House concurred with Senate amendments Wednesday to provide the Legislature’s final approval. A companion bill would automatically erase some past marijuana convictions and reconsider criminal sentences for about 100 prisoners. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called a special legislation this week to push for legalization of marijuana in efforts to spur employment and a stable new source of state income. She is expected to sign the package of bills.  The target date for sales to begin is still a year away: April, 2022.

SANTA FE, N.M (AP) — New Mexico is joining a wave of states that are legalizing recreational marijuana as its Democrat-dominated Legislature sent a package of cannabis bills Wednesday to a supportive governor.

Lawmakers used a marathon two-day legislative session to push through marijuana legalization for adults over 21 and a companion bill that automatically erases many past marijuana convictions, overriding skeptical Republicans.

By signing the bills, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would extend legal recreational pot sales in the American Southwest by April 2022, when the New Mexico legislation kicks in, and join 16 states that have legalized marijuana, mostly through direct ballot initiatives. California and Colorado were among the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana, with Arizona becoming one of the latest in the region to follow suit earlier this year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a legalization bill Wednesday, and a proposal in Virginia is awaiting the governor’s signature.

The New Mexico initiative would reconsider criminal drug sentences for about 100 prisoners, and give the governor a strong hand in licensing the industry and monitoring supplies.

New Mexico flirted with cannabis legalization in the 1990s, when then-Gov. Gary Johnson challenged taboos against decriminalization in defiance of Republican allies. The state’s medical marijuana program founded in 2007 has attracted more than 100,000 patients.

The Legislature was reticent to legalize until now. Several hardline opponents of legalization in the state Senate were voted out of office by Democrats in 2020 primary elections, in a shift that paved the way for Wednesday’s historic vote.

Under the advancing legalization package, New Mexico would levy an initial excise tax on recreational marijuana sales of 12% that eventually rises to 18%. That’s on top of current gross receipts on sales that range from roughly 5% to 9%.

Possession of up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana would cease to be a crime, and people would be allowed six plants at home — or up to 12 per household.

The reforms would eliminate taxes on the sales of medical marijuana and seek to ensure adequate medicinal supplies.

“The United States of America is in the midst of a sea change when it comes to this,” said Democratic state Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, lead sponsor of the legalization bill. “This bill begins to repair the harms of prohibition.”

State oversight would largely fall to the governor-appointed superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department that would issue licenses for a fee to marijuana-related businesses. The agency initially would have the authority to limit marijuana production levels by major producers — a lever over market supplies and pricing.

Several senators warned against the production cap as a recipe for creating a government sanctioned monopoly, amid lobbying for price supports by some incumbent medical marijuana producers.

The legalization bill creates a cannabis control division to oversee 10 types of industry licenses. Those include micro-licenses with low annual fees for small producers to grow up to 200 marijuana plants and also package and sell their products.

Bill sponsor Martinez says that provides an important measure of equity, within a bill designed to support communities that suffered from criminalization of marijuana and tough policing.

Past drug convictions don’t automatically disqualify applicants for marijuana business licenses. The odor of marijuana or suspicion of possession are no longer legal grounds to stop, detain or search people.

Legalization bill co-sponsor Rep. Deborah Armstrong says New Mexico will respond to early pitfalls of legalization in other states as it mandates child-proof packaging for marijuana products.

Public health advocates condemned provisions that allow public consumption lounges for recreational cannabis, citing the dangers of second-hand smoke and vapor to workers and patrons.

Lawmakers discarded a Republican-sponsored bill from Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell that emphasized low taxes in an effort to stamp out illicit weed and would have provided low-cost licenses to small pot farmers by linking fees to the number of plants in cultivation.

Local governments cannot prohibit pot businesses but can regulate locations and hours of operation, under the proposal. Bill sponsors say that sheriffs and police want consistency from town-to-town on rules and enforcement.

Republican state Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs voted against legalization and said she was amazed that legislative colleagues would support the freedom to buy mind-altering drugs amid New Mexico’s struggles with poverty and opioid overdoses.

“I just think it’s terribly unfair to impose this kind of significant change in our way of life and areas of the state that clearly do not welcome this,” Kernan said.

 

Earlier post:

SANTA FE, N.M (AP) — A New Mexico proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state for adults ages 21 and older has cleared its last major hurdle and legislators have sent the bill to the governor. The state Senate voted 22-15 on Wednesday to endorse a House-approved bill that levies new taxes on recreational cannabis sales and closely regulates business licenses and production. A companion bill would automatically erase some marijuana convictions and reconsider criminal sentences for about 100 prisoners. 

 

Earlier post:  Santa Fe, N.M. – The legalization and regulation of adult-use cannabis in New Mexico passed the House of Representatives today with a 38-32 vote. The measure will now head to the Senate for consideration, and if passed there, advance to Governor Lujan Grisham, who has expressed her support for legalization. Here is a statement from the NM House Democrats:

Sponsored by Reps. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque), Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe), Deborah Armstrong (D-Albuquerque), Senator Katy Duhigg (D-Albuquerque), and Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), House Bill 2: the Cannabis Regulation Act legalizes and regulates the use, production, and sale of cannabis and cannabis products for adults 21 years and older. The bill implements a responsible, tightly regulated system, establishing guidelines for licensure that prioritize diversity and equal opportunity. 

As amended yesterday in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, sales from cannabis will begin with a 12% excise tax, increasing by 1% annually starting in 2025 and continuing for 6 years, totaling 18% by 2030, and effectively doubling the state’s revenue. 

After concerns about secondhand smoke were expressed by the American Cancer Society and other community organizations, the sponsors added a second amendment in the House Judiciary Committee to ensure that public use of cannabis is held to the same regulations as cigarettes.

Additional amendments on the House Floor today add a police chief to the Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee established in the bill, and require that a report assessing the effects of legalization be conducted by the Legislative Finance Committee. 

Economic projections show that recreational cannabis sales in New Mexico could total as much as $318 million in the first year alone, while also creating over 11,000 new jobs. Estimated tax revenue is projected to be $28.6 million in the first year, then stabilizing at $50 million annually.

“We are excited to be back and working hard to finish the important job we started in the 60-day session,” said Rep. Martinez. “The feedback and insights from both the 60-day and this special session have helped us develop a stronger, better, more equitable bill with a framework that’s right for New Mexico, and we’re proud to see it advance through the House today.” 

“House Bill 2 represents the collective efforts of many legislators, advocates, experts, and members of the public to build the best possible cannabis legislation for the people and state of New Mexico,” said Rep. Romero. “This carefully-crafted bill establishes the framework, safeguards, and policies needed to successfully launch this burgeoning industry in New Mexico in a way that will boost our economy, create jobs, and protect our communities.” 

“This thoughtfully-constructed bill contains a strong regulatory and legal framework that controls packaging and marketing, ensures adequate supply for the medical program, and controls product quality through independent lab testing, which will help us avoid the pitfalls that other states have experienced,” said Rep. Armstrong. “I have been involved with this issue for 20 years, including working as an advocate to legalize medical cannabis in 2007, and House Bill 2 is our best opportunity to take the next step to legalize adult use and end the dangerous illicit market in New Mexico.” 

Members of the public can track the legislation of the 2021 Special Session on the New Mexico Legislature website, access committee meetings and House floor sessions via the Webcasts tab, or participate by Zoom to provide public comment on committee hearings.