February 7, 2020

Cannabis research bill advances

Photo Credit: ChelseyHerba Flickr via Compfight cc

The House Commerce and Economic Development approved a bill that would allow for special licenses to grow, buy, sell or manufacture cannabis for approved research facilities Friday by a 6-3 vote.

HB 334, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, would allow licensed research facilities to grow and transport cannabis and establish a Cannabis Control Division to regulate licensing. The state’s Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) would oversee the Cannabis Control Division. 

Martínez fielded questions from both Democratic and Republican committee members, but all of the criticisms came from Republicans. Some of those concerns were whether RLD is the best home for the Cannabis Control Department. 

Martínez and his expert witnesses explained to the committee that under current federal law, research facilities can get approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency to grow cannabis, but those researchers must get their plants from the federal agency. If passed, HB 334 would allow New Mexico to issue special research licenses and researchers could grow their own cannabis or buy from another approved facility. 

Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, said she didn’t think regulating cannabis is necessarily in the department’s purview. She also raised concerns that there was no money set aside to start the Cannabis Control Board without using money from other licensing fees the state collects. 

“One of my concerns is there’s no seed money here,” Fajardo said. 

Fajardo was ultimately the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill. She later told committee members that she knew it was going to pass anyway, but that she still has problems with the bill.   

Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, questioned the need for Martínez’s bill, citing a so-called right to try bill she sponsored in 2017. Powdrell-Culbert’s recounted how her bill failed in the Legislature but that President Trump eventually signed right to try into law. Although Powdrell-Culbert incorrectly recounted how right to try passed.  

“Under federal law, I think it’s 39 states. And once something passes 39 states, the feds can go ahead…and that’s what President Trump did and it was just legal across the land for right to try,” Powdrell-Cublert said. “Maybe you don’t need a license, maybe we don’t need to wrestle with this in New Mexico.”

The federal Right to Try Act allows terminally-ill patients to try experimental drugs that have not been fully approved by the Federal Drug Administration and was signed into law by Trump after passing both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, not through a majority of states passing similar laws. 

The Legislature is also considering a bill that would specify that only New Mexico residents can enroll in the state’s medical cannabis program and two legalization bills, both of which also establish a control board, and . 

The bill heads to the House Appropriation and Finance Committee next.