A group tasked with creating a proposal to legalize cannabis in New Mexico met for the second time to discuss specifics of licensing and regulation as well as how to maintain a medical cannabis program.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Working Group on Marijuana Legalization met for more than five hours on Wednesday and heard from a couple dozen members of the public.
This is for the naysayers
Pushes for cannabis legalization in the Legislature are nothing new. For years there have been attempts to legalize cannabis by changing the state constitution, as constitutional amendments do not require approval by the governor, and former Gov. Susana Martinez vocally opposed the idea. But the last legislative session showed increased signs of success for proponents. Two different bills, one that pushed for state-run stores and sponsored by Senate Republicans and another without a state-run store provision, saw increased support.
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, sponsored a legalization bill in the House and he is now a member of the working group. Martinez said he thinks the group’s “cognitive diversity” will help convince lawmakers who are against legalization, but still open to the idea.
“I think that out of this process will emerge consensus across the board,” Martinez said.
Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a task force to study possible cannabis legalization measures last month, some in the medical cannabis community expressed concerns about proper representation.
The Cannabis Legalization Working Group, the governor’s office said, will work this year and send their recommendations to Lujan Grisham before next year’s 30-day legislative session. Lujan Grisham announced earlier this year that she would add legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use to the call next year. In even numbered years, all legislation related to budgetary matters are considered “germane”, but the governor can give permission for legislators to discuss other issues.
Some medical cannabis patients and patient advocates have long warned lawmakers of passing legalization proposals that might harm the medical cannabis program. Now, at least one patient and even medical cannabis producers are scratching their heads wondering why the Cannabis Legalization Working Group does not include actual patients.
Patients want a seat at the table
Ginger Grider is a medical cannabis patient and works with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance. Grider, who lives in Portales, said rural parts of the state regularly see shortages or outages in local dispensaries.
After a three-hour debate Thursday night, the state House of Representatives by a narrow margin — 36-34 — approved a measure that would legalize recreational use of marijuana in New Mexico. Any resident 21 years or older would be allowed to buy, possess and use cannabis under the proposal, which also would create a state oversight commission. House Bill 356 next heads to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate approves it, it would go to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has said she favors legalizing recreational marijuana if the proper safeguards are put in place. If such a proposal became law, New Mexico would become the 11th state to decriminalize marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law.
Very different visions for legalizing cannabis in New Mexico are a bit closer to becoming reality after legislative hearings on Saturday. A bill that would legalize recreational cannabis for adults over 21 and task the state with licensing retailers to sell the product is headed to a vote of the full House of Representatives after winning the approval of a key committee. Just a few hours later, a Senate committee backed a Republican-sponsored proposal to legalize cannabis and allow for sales from state-owned stores. It remains unclear whether the full Senate would approve either bill this year, making the campaign to legalize cannabis something of a long shot as the legislative session nears its end March 16. But with a new governor who has said she would sign a bill legalizing marijuana with the right provisions in place, both pieces of legislation have stirred a debate that was hypothetical a year ago.
One of the biggest unanswered questions during this year’s legislative session is whether New Mexico will become the next state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Legal cannabis is dependent on a handful of hold-outs in the state Senate, but one bill that would ease the state’s laws on cannabis, years in the making and sponsored by one of those hold-outs, cleared its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 323 on a 5-1 vote Tuesday evening. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, sponsored similar legislation to replace criminal charges with fines for possessing relatively small amounts of cannabis since 2015. With each attempt, the proposal has gained more support in the Legislature.
Proponents of legalizing marijuana have long pointed to a prospective windfall they say state and local governments could enjoy by taxing products that now circulate on the black market. But the sponsors of a bill to legalize marijuana in New Mexico have an unlikely goal. They don’t want to tax it too much. And there’s a reason why. “Our goal was to stay under 20 percent,” said Rep. Javier Martinez, a Democrat from Albuquerque who is co-sponsoring House Bill 356, known as the Cannabis Regulation Act.
Possession of small amounts of cannabis is no longer a criminal offense under Albuquerque city code. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed city council legislation Thursday making cannabis possession a civil infraction. City councilors approved the measure earlier this month on a 5-4 vote. In a statement, Keller said the new ordinance will allow city police officers to focus on combating other crimes. “We’re facing real challenges in Albuquerque and this is a step in the right direction to allow our officers the flexibility to better prioritize their time tackling violent crime and property crime in our city,” Keller said.
The City of Albuquerque is one step closer to reducing the penalties for the possession of small amounts of cannabis. City councilors voted 5-4 Monday night to replace the current ordinance that allows for possible jail time for cannabis possession with a $25 fine. Now it’s up to Mayor Tim Keller to make it official. Under current city law, possession of an ounce or less of cannabis could result in a $50 fine and up to 15 days in jail for a first offense and a possible $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail for repeat offenses.Councilor Cynthia Borrego was the only Democrat to vote against the proposal. She explained that there is “not really any empirical evidence” showing a correlation between decreased penalties and reduced crime rates.
In less than a week, Albuquerque voters will cast ballots for the next mayor and in some districts, city councilors. Most candidates have straightforward ideas on how to improve the city, but one candidate is keeping true to his campaign modus operandi by proposing an idea that other candidates won’t even consider. Gus Pedrotty, the youngest candidate for mayor this year, recently added city-level marijuana legalization to his platform. While the idea of legalization on a local level may be enticing for some voters, other candidates and at least one cannabis producer said the idea is too complicated to work. Earlier this month, Pedrotty released a campaign video promoting his ideas for improving the city’s clean energy industry and how to help pay for it.
A Canadian marijuana company will not acquire a New Mexico medical marijuana nonprofit after all. Nutritional High, the Toronto-based company focused on creating a high-level brand of cannabis-infused edibles, canceled its deal to buy 51 shares of Santa Fe-based Sacred Garden, one of 23 state-sanctioned medical cannabis producers. In a statement released Tuesday, Nutritional High said its decision was based on “various factors,” including “the due diligence process, larger opportunities in other states” and “a decision to maintain the Company’s stated focus on marijuana oils, extracts and edibles while limiting exposure to risks inherent in marijuana growing.”
“Given the small size of the New Mexico market in relation to the costs to acquire Zephyr, to build out its grow capabilities, and to build out our edibles facility using the quality control and dosing methods we have been, we have decided to focus our financial resources on other pipeline opportunities,” Nutritional High CEO David Posner said in the statement. The reversal comes after a high level of scrutiny from the state’s medical marijuana community over the planned acquisition. Tim Scott, president of New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Alliance, told New Mexico Political Report last month that he feared the deal could lead to consolidation and monopolization of the local industry.