January 24, 2021

Growing Forward: Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth talks legalization

The New Mexico state Senate will likely start the official push for full cannabis legalization as late as next week, according to the top member of Democratic leadership. 

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the Senate will not meet for its second floor session until Feb. 1, but that he expects “a huge bucket of bills” to be officially introduced then. At least one of those bills is expected to be a cannabis legalization proposal. 

“We just had a very long day on Tuesday,” Wirth said in the first episode of the second season of Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS. “But we’ll be back on the first and I think at that point you will see exactly what’s there and can analyze those and discuss them and certainly we welcome input.”

At least one recreational legalization bill is expected in the New Mexico House of Representatives within days

Wirth said a new class of progressive Senators elected last year who are in favor of legalization could help push the issue through the Legislature and to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. But, he said, that hinges on Senators’ willingness to work together on specific issues. 

“So that, of course, is contingent upon us getting through all the details and seeking compromise amongst the various proposals, and the good news is that we’ve been having those conversations already,” Wirth said. “Everyone understands that the way we lose this, is if we end up with someone getting totally locked into their specific provision and then kind of having this all collide at the very end of the session.”

Some economic experts, as well as some legalization advocates, have recently said the clock is ticking for New Mexico to legalize recreational-use cannabis if state leaders want to stay on par with surrounding states that have already approved legalization. Colorado legalized recreational-use cannabis  almost a decade ago and Arizona voters approved legalization last November. Arizona state officials have already approved more than 70 medical dispensaries to start selling recreational-use cannabis.  

During last year’s 30-day legislative session, a state Senate legalization proposal never made it through its second committee hearing. Senate Judiciary Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, last year criticized the proposal for being too long and full of too many unanswered questions. Wirth said the shorter session, combined with the bill’s late start contributed to the Legislature’s failure to pass legalization last year.  

“I think it’s a lesson for how not to do it,” Wirth said. “We need to make sure that when the legislation does get to Senate Judiciary, the work has been done by the advocates [and] by the legislators.”

You can listen to the full interview with Wirth below, or watch it here.