February 16, 2021

One cannabis legalization effort moves forward, another fails in committee

A New Mexico House of Representatives committee on Monday approved one proposal to legalize recreational-use cannabis and tabled another. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted mostly along party lines to pass HB 12 on to its next committee. Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell voted, along with Republican committee members, against HB 12. He recently changed his political affiliation from Republican to independent. 

Both HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, and HB 17, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Tara Lujan of Santa Fe and Roger Montoya of Velarde, had largely similar aims. But Martínez and Romero’s bill would allow for home cultivation, unlimited plant counts for producers and no limits on how much cannabis a person can possess in their home. 

The committee also voted 7-4 to table HB 17, essentially stalling the bill indefinitely. 

Committee Chair Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, who is also a sponsor of HB 12, praised the efforts of all of the sponsors, but said that she wanted to streamline the effort to legalize cannabis. 

“I do think it was a responsibility of this committee to try and narrow this down and not do the same thing all over again in the next committee,” Armstrong said. 

Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, who voted against HB 12 and also voted against tabling HB 17, said she disagreed with the notion of paring down cannabis legalization proposals and that lawmakers should be able to consider all legislation. 

“I will say there is no reason to streamline because this is what we’re supposed to do,” Gail Armstrong said. “We’re supposed to talk about what we’re doing in the Legislature, making laws for the state of New Mexico, and this is a big one.” 

Monday’s hearing was a continuation from Saturday when the panel heard public testimony and posed some questions to both sponsors. 

Questions from Rep. Luis Terrazas, R-Santa Clara, took up most of the meeting. 

Terrazas raised numerous concerns ranging from measuring impairment to ensuring properly educating youth on cannabis use or abuse. 

Experts speaking for both bills assured committee members that education is included in both bills and that while there is no blood or breath test equivalent to those for alcohol, many officers are already trained to spot impairment of many substances. 

Before voting against HB 12 and against tabeling HB 17, Terrazas suggested adding an additional tax to pay for clearing state roads of trash, similar to how the state tobacco tax is applied. 

Deborah Armstrong said the tax provisions were carefully crafted and that some studies have shown that taxing cannabis anymore than 20 percent pushes buyers to the illicit market. None of the five cannabis legalization proposals currently filed propose a tax any higher than 20 percent. 

Both on Saturday and Monday, Anderson suggested earmarking some of the potential tax revenue for the state’s lottery scholarship fund. 

Most of the proposals to legalize cannabis have either minimal designations for tax revenue or none at all. 

Still, Terrazas said he had too many issues with HB 12 to vote for it. 

“I think it’s premature and obviously we have a lot of conversation, and I don’t believe it’s ready for the next committee,” he said. 

Gail Armstrong also said she voted against HB 12 because it was not ready. 

“I hate passing legislation out of a committee to another committee that still has issues,” Gail Armstrong said. 

HB 12 is the favorite of both the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico and prominent medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, whereas HB 17 was backed by the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. 

The two proposals are two of five bills that have been introduced so far, but a version of Lujan’s bill is in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. 

In a statement to NM Political Report, Lujan congratulated the sponsors of HB 12 and said she hopes they would consider including parts of HB 17, namely, a “mechanism to responsibly manage production.”

“I’m hopeful that this has moved the dialogue forward, towards a potential passage of this legislation,” Lujan said.  

Ivey-Soto declined to specify what his plans are with his identical SB 13, but said his goal is to send a cannabis legalization bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has said legalization is one of her priorities this year.  

“My commitment is to ensure that an adult-use bill passes this year,” Ivey-Soto said. “That commitment remains.”

Last year, during the 30-day legislative session, Democrats in both the House and Senate strategically prioritized a Senate cannabis legalization bill over a House version as legalization attempts have historically failed in the Senate. Some conservative Senate Democrats who have voted against previous cannabis legalization efforts lost their elections last November, possibly creating a path for such legislation this year. But the three legalization bills in the Senate have yet to be scheduled for committee hearings.