March 18, 2021

House-backed cannabis legalization bill heads to Senate Floor

After a series of successful and attempted amendments and three hours of debate, a House-backed legalization effort passed its last Senate committee by a 5-4 vote and is now headed to the chamber’s floor. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee debate started Wednesday night and ended early Thursday morning, though Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, reiterated his belief that HB 12 was still not ready for the Senate floor. 

HB 12, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, went through a number of changes that include prohibiting cannabis producers from stacking licenses, an adjustment to how production is monitored and limited, a prohibition on cannabis producers testing their own products for potency and contaminants, and a change to how the cannabis excise tax would be structured.  

But even after an extensive debate and detailed amendments, Cervantes said the bill was riddled with errors and ambiguity. 

After Cervantes went through each section and pointed out numerous instances that he said would be problematic, Romero said she and Martínez would be willing to go through them and make changes during the meeting. But Cervantes said making those changes would take too long. 

“There are a number of things in the bill that should be of great concern to you that, frankly in many cases, are just contrary to law,” Cervantes said.

Cervantes voted, along with the three Republican committee members, against the measure 

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored a legalization attempt in 2019 agreed that the bill was not ready and called the current version “half-baked.” Moores criticized proponents of the bill for not working with him to come up with an agreeable bill. 

“My phone has been silent from the advocates on this for three years now,” Moores said. “It doesn’t seem like they wanted to get it right and there were agendas there.” 

Senate Minority Floor Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, praised the committee for meticulously going through the bill, but said there were still “glaring issues.”

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, did not offer any comments on the final bill that passed the committee, but he also sponsored a legalization bill this year. His bill, though, would still need to pass another Senate committee and the Senate floor before going through the process again in the House. Pirtle offered up an amendment of his own at the beginning of the meeting that would have essentially replaced the language of HB 12 with the language of his SB 288

Pirtle’s bill garnered Republican support in its first committee hearing. 

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, offered her own amendment that would have created an equity fund for certain communities that have been negatively impacted by previous drug laws and addressed concerns raised by the New Mexico Acequia Association. Both Martínez and Romero said they agreed with the spirit of Lopez’s amendment, but had issues with specific language. Instead of trying to piecemeal the amendment, the sponsors and Lopez agreed to make adjustments to the bill before the Senate floor debate. 

And after Cervantes’ list of concerns with the bill, it’s unclear what it may look like by the time it makes it to the floor for debate. Further, any changes made on the floor, in addition to changes made in committee will have to be approved by the House before it can go to the governor’s desk. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signaled that she would like to see production control in a final version, but has mostly stayed out of the fray when it comes to specifics she wants to see in a final bill.