February 12, 2020

Lower profile cannabis bills headed for floor debates

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With eight days left in the legislative session, passing a cannabis legalization bill is looking more and more like a long-shot. But there are three other bills related to cannabis and hemp that have been moving through committee assignments, some with little to no debate or opposition. 

The two cannabis legalization bills have stalled so far in both legislative chambers. The Senate version passed its first committee and is scheduled to be heard Wednesday afternoon in its second. The House version of legalization has yet to be heard in its first committee. Both bills are politically divisive and will likely be subjected to hours of public testimony and legislative debate. But three other bills, that aim to bolster the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, clarify the state’s hemp law and open the door to more cannabis research, are steadily making their way through committees and towards floor debates. 

HB 214 

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, sponsored the hemp bill that was passed into law last year. This year, Lente is pushing for some clean-up language to the same law he helped pass. His HB 214 would extend what’s already being enforced for New Mexican hemp producers to out of state producers. 

“We want to make sure we have a level playing field for New Mexico hemp manufacturers, while protecting our own public health issues in our own state,” Lente told members of the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee on Tuesday. 

That committee was the last assignment for the bill before it heads to the House floor for debate. 

The bill specifies that any out-of-state consumable hemp products such as food, drink or smokable products must pass the same requirements as products manufactured in New Mexico. If the House Agriculture and Water Resources meeting was any indication, Republicans may support the bill with a little education. Rep. Martin Zamora, R-Clovis, raised his concerns about vaping or smoking hemp and admitted he did not quite understand why someone might smoke or vape CBD products, which come from the hemp plant. 

“I believe as we go down this road, there’s a lot to learn about hemp,” Zamora said. “There’s a lot that people know, but it’s not really being shared.”

CBD or cannabidiol can be found in cannabis, but it does not produce a high like other chemicalscannabis does. In the past several years, the CBD industry has expanded and many proponents tout it as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, although state law prohibits manufacturers from selling it as relief for any specific conditions or symptoms. 

Even though Zamora said he could not support the bill, he ultimately remained silent when a “do-pass” motion was presented and the acting chair Rep. Candie Sweetser, D-Deming, asked if there was any opposition.   

HB 334

Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, is one of the sponsors of the House legalization effort and the public face of that push on the House side. But he’s also sponsoring a bill that would establish a Cannabis Control Division, which would issue special cannabis licenses to approved research facilities.

HB 334 was approved by the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee last week along party lines. Republicans in that committee were concerned less about facilities growing and researching cannabis and more about whether the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department was the best home for a Cannabis Control Division. The bill was also put on a fast track to the House floor Tuesday afternoon when Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, pulled it from its last House committee by request of House Appropriation and Finance Committee Chair Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup. That means after one committee, Martínez’s cannabis research bill is headed to the floor. 

The bill does not contain any appropriation.

During the sole committee hearing Martínez and his expert witnesses told the panel that the Federal Drug Administration currently allows research on cannabis for approved facilities. But, Martínez and his experts said, any plants used for research must be purchased by the FDA. This bill would allow researchers to independently buy, sell and grow cannabis to study. 

SB 271

When New Mexico lawmakers approved medical cannabis more than a decade ago, they did not include provisions for its use on tribal lands held in trust by the federal government. Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, is trying to rectify that for a second year in a row. Shendo, a member of Jemez Pueblo, previously told NM Political Report that anyone who legally buys medical cannabis in New Mexico risks being arrested for breaking federal law when they travel to sovereign nations. The Senate Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee passed Shendo’s SB 271 on Tuesday, 3-1. It was the bill’s last assignment before a Senate floor vote. The only dissenting vote during Tuesday’s meeting was Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington.  

Shendo’s bill would not open state production licenses to tribal communities, but it would allow for agreements between them and the New Mexico Department of Health, which Shendo said would help prevent federal agents from raiding tribal lands. 

Sharer said he thought the bill was unnecessary because he thinks federal officers don’t care about medical cannabis programs.

“I don’t know that there’s any FBI agent anywhere in New Mexico that is going to go out of his way to arrest somebody on tribal land unless they’re a dealer,” Sharer said. 

He made it clear that he was not against tribal communities deciding for themselves how to handle both medical and recreational use cannabis. 

“They can do whatever they want,” Sharer said. “My concern is what it does to the greater society.”

DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel served as Shendo’s expert witness and said she would like Native Americans to have better access to medical cannabis. 

“We believe the tribes should have the same rights and enter into a government to government agreement with the department of health to consume and grow their own medicine,” Kunke said. 

In a statement to NM Political Report she also addressed Sharer’s thoughts on the federal government. 

“The Department of Health is always mindful of any role the federal government has regarding the production and use of medical cannabis in our state, and I’m certain it cares about this subject in every U.S. state,” Kunkel said. 

Dr. Dominick Zurlo, the director of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program also spoke at the meeting and said less than three percent of enrolled medical cannabis patients identify as Native American. 

“By allowing this particular bill, this has the potential to help decrease that disparity of health,” Zurlo said.