March 20, 2021

Cannabis legalization runs out of time, governor will call for a special session

Photo Credit: ChelseyHerba Flickr via Compfight cc

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham confirmed on Saturday that she plans to call a special legislative session aimed at fully legalizing cannabis and said it will begin “on or about” March 31. 

In a post-legislative session press conference, Lujan Grisham said the work lawmakers did to try and come up with an agreeable cannabis legalization proposal can serve as a good starting point during the special session. 

“If you look at all of the brokering of efforts to bring two sides of the issue together, and it happened over and over again, we have an incredible framework ready to go for adult use cannabis,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The governor’s announcement comes on the heels of a 60-day session that failed to send a cannabis legalization bill to Lujan Grisham’s desk. But the outlook for cannabis legalization during the last few days of the session was a stark contrast from the optimism just weeks earlier. About a week before lawmakers were set to adjourn, legalization seemed like it was going to stall in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But HB 12, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, ultimately made its way out of that committee, albeit with less than 72 hours before the end of the session and a warning from Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. 

“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, existing law,” Cervantes said. “And I don’t think you want to do that.”

More specifically, Cervantes said the bill would unintentionally give parents the ability to give their children cannabis and that wording regarding personal possession limits was opposite of what the sponsors intended. Cervantes was key in decriminalizing cannabis possession, but has been clear over the years that he is not in favor of full legalization. But Cervantes assured the committee and the bill’s sponsors that his personal views were not what held up the bill.  

“I think all of you know that philosophically, I don’t believe New Mexico’s ready for this,” Cervantes said. “But I would never be so arrogant to think that my personal beliefs would be a reason that we would not hear the bill, or that I would hold the bill, or that my vote alone would be enough to change the will of this committee, or this Legislature.”

By Friday, hours before the session was set to end, both HB 12 and a Republican-sponsored legalization bill were technically in play, but HB 12 was the closest to the governor’s desk. Quickly, chatter shifted to talks of a potential special session, which was eventually confirmed by the governor’s office. But by late Friday, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, confirmed that he was working to come up with an agreeable legalization proposal in order to avoid a special session. Pirtle sponsored SB 288, which also aimed to legalize recreational-use. 

Pirtle told NM Political Report that he came up with what he saw as a compromise in an amendment that was more than 100 pages long. But he added that he knew it was too late in the session to move it forward.  

“I think that Senator [Peter] Wirth, Representative [Brian] Egolf, and the governor all understood the importance of getting it right,’ Pirtle said. “And that we didn’t want to do something in a rush, which I respect that decision.”

Pirtle said he hoped to avoid a special session, but that he plans to have a seat at the proverbial negotiation table during the upcoming special session “so that we have some different points of view, to ensure that we get the best bill possible.”

One of the major points of debate and amendments was control on production. Lujan Grisham did not address that specifically during Saturday’s press conference, but has signaled that she would like to see some sort of control on how many cannabis plants are produced in the state. 

HB 12 originally had language that specifically barred the state from implementing plant limits, but that was changed at least twice. 

Pirtle said he’s open to negotiation and more discussion, but that he leans towards letting the market decide how many plants the state needs to support a recreational-use program. 

“I really am cautious about putting in protectionism. I think that’s when we prop up the black market,” Pirtle said. “We create value in licenses when we shouldn’t be doing that as we did with liquor licenses 41 years ago.”

Lujan Grisham campaigned on, among other things, cannabis legalization and since taking office in 2019, she has said legalization was one of her priorities for the past three legislative sessions. 

In addition to legalization, lawmakers also considered a bill, backed by the state’s Department of Health, that would have limited who qualifies as a reciprocal medical cannabis patient, which stalled on the House floor, the bill’s last stop before the governor’s desk.