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.
When it comes to legalizing cannabis for recreational use, those responsible for running state government have a warning for lawmakers: Not so fast. The proposed legislation calls for the state to begin licensing retailers as soon as January 2020. But the state Taxation and Revenue Department has told lawmakers the deadline is unfeasible and asked that they push it back to 2021. The change would shove further into the future the day when New Mexicans who are 21 and older could freely buy cannabis from retailers. And that’s if House Bill 356 even passes this year, which may be a long shot, as the 60-day legislative session is in its final month and some Democratic senators remain opposed.
A Republican state senator on Thursday introduced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana but, unlike a Democratic House bill, would have the state operate retail marijuana stores. Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque said in a phone interview Thursday that, considering the number of western states that have adopted laws treating marijuana more like alcohol, legalization in New Mexico is inevitable. “It’s a just matter of how we want to do it,” he said. “We should do it in a smart way.” Moores said his proposal would take steps to reduce harmful effects of marijuana, “while allowing adults the liberty of using marijuana if they want to.”
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.
After years of efforts by drug-law reform advocates, could this be the year that New Mexico legalizes marijuana? There’s little doubt that the state is closer now than ever, with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez — an unyielding opponent of marijuana for recreational use — out of the picture and new Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on the record saying she’d sign a legalization bill as long as it had proper safeguards. But few, if indeed any, people at the Capitol are predicting House Bill 356, introduced last week by Rep. Javier Martinez, will make it out of the Legislature this year. “It’s time to be smart about the war on drugs,” Rep. Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said in a recent interview, calling the state and federal governments’ decade-sold anti-marijuana policy a failure. If the bill passes the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs it into law, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana would be legal for those over 21.
Recreational marijuana would become legal for people 21 or older in New Mexico and the state could tax marijuana sold in licensed stores under a bill introduced Thursday by state Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque. House Bill 356 would establish a licensing system that supporters say favors small businesses and institute a 9 percent tax on marijuana for buyers who are not patients in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. The revenue would go for research and education as well as community grants for workforce training, substance misuse treatment, mental health treatment, and youth drug-education and prevention programs.
Cities and counties would be allowed to opt out of allowing retail marijuana sales. “It’s time to be smart about the war on drugs,” Martínez told The New Mexican in an interview last week. He called the decades-long state and federal anti-marijuana policies a failure.
A majority of New Mexico voters support legalizing recreational marijuana. And a governor who opposes the idea will leave office at the start of the year, giving hope to some supporters of the idea. But even if New Mexico’s next governor supports the legalization of recreational marijuana, a familiar obstacle would still stand in the way: the state Senate. State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino has sponsored legislation to legalize recreational marijuana since 2014. He’s tried with constitutional amendments in the past, but if Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports legalization, wins office then the effort will go through regular statue.
After the 2017 general legislative session adjourned, Gov. Susana Martinez vowed to veto any tax increases and to call legislators back to the Roundhouse for a special session soon to redo the budget. Democrats said their package would avoid any further cuts to education, which has seen several slashes in recent years because of declining revenue to the state. The governor’s office says a state government shutdown could happen as early as next month. This story also appears in this week’s edition of the Alibi. In a post-session press conference, Martinez blamed lawmakers, saying some “failed to do their jobs this session.” Her tone capped a tense few days between her office and the Legislature.
One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.
The state Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation to decrease penalties for marijuana possession, with supporters saying the bill would reduce burdens on the criminal justice system. Senate Bill 258 now moves to the House of Representatives. But even if it passes there, it’s almost certain to be vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. “As a career prosecutor, Governor Martinez saw firsthand the damage drugs do to our families and communities,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in an email. “She’s opposed to legalizing drugs — and that includes decriminalizing weed.”