October 6, 2020

Growing Forward: The Dynamics of Legalization

In about two months some New Mexico lawmakers will begin to prefile bills ahead of next year’s legislative session, which starts in January. 

All issues are on the table for the upcoming 60-day session, but one topic that’s almost guaranteed to resurface in January is legalizing recreational-use cannabis. Since she took office in 2019, and even during her campaign before that, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made a point to push for legalization. 

In the latest episode of Growing Forward, a collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, we briefly take a look at the last attempt at legalization and why it failed. 

The proverbial nail in the coffin for the most recent attempt came from the highly critical Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. Cervantes criticized the bill for being too long and complex to fully vet in the last several days of this year’s 30-day session. 

Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, has been a point person, of sorts, for the past few years on legalization efforts. He said Cervantes’ criticism of the length of the bill is unfounded. 

“I’ve been in the legislature six years now and this is not the biggest bill I’ve seen by far,” Martínez said. 

Cervantes also criticised a provision that would allow those who have been convicted of low-level drug crimes to get involved in the potential legal cannabis industry. He rhetorically asked if Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán, commonly known as El Chapo, would be able to get a license to produce and sell cannabis in New Mexico. 

Martínez told Growing Forward that he took offense to that question as Guzmán has a reputation for violence and the bill’s provision was specifically for non-violent offenders. 

“No, El Chapo would not have been able to get a cannabis license,” Martínez said. “No career criminal would be able to get a cannabis license.”

This week’s episode also explores the idea of restorative justice and what kind of role it might take in future attempts at legalizing cannabis. 

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who is also a medical cannabis patient, said he sees no reason for legalizing cannabis if there is not a provision to address how previous drug laws impacted people of color. 

“I have no intent on voting for a piece of recreational legalization next session unless it incorporates fully and embraces these very difficult issues and proposes responses,” Candelaria said. 

This week’s episode also addresses the words marijuana and cannabis and how many see the former as an outdated term, rooted in racism.

We also talk about one way lawmakers may be able to expand the state’s medical cannabis program that may be an incremental step towards legalization. 

You can find Growing Forward below or search for it on the platform you usually use for podcasts. 

Growing Forward is a collaboration made possible by the New Mexico Local News Fund. New episodes are released every Tuesday.