March 25, 2021

Rural community stakeholders want lawmakers to address equity in cannabis legalization

New Mexico lawmakers are gearing up for a special legislative session, that will at least be mostly focused on legalizing adult-use cannabis. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her intention to call a special session just after this year’s regular legislative session, but didn’t specify the exact date when it would start.

Now, as lawmakers are reportedly working out the details, many local community stakeholders are wringing their hands, hoping the Legislature will address their respective concerns. One of those issues of concern is equity in rural New Mexico communities. 

Moises Gonzales, a community leader with the Cañon de Carnué Land Grant, near Albuquerque, said that none of the legalization bills presented during this year’s regular session fully addressed land grant and acequia communities’ concerns. 

HB 12, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, both Democrats, probably came the closest to addressing concerns of an equitable cannabis industry. HB 12 would have allowed for micro cannabis licenses as a way to give smaller companies a chance to thrive. It also took steps to protect the state’s water by requiring producers to show they are allowed to access the water they plan to use for cultivation. 

But Gonzales told Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, that those equity provisions in HB 12 didn’t go far enough. Gonzales said he didn’t see anything in HB 12 that would have allowed rural communities to easily open a storefront in order to sell cannabis grown on their land. 

“If we’re talking about rural economic development, how can a few growers in the land grants and acequias do a small [grow], it was debated whether 100 or 200 plants, and then be able to have a storefront?” Gonzales said. 

At one point during debate over legalization, one committee adopted some of the language land grant and acequia communities are calling for. 

On March 7, the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) sent an open letter to lawmakers asking them to adopt a list of amendments to HB 12, which, at the time, was the bill closest to getting to the governor’s desk. 

“HB 12 has several provisions that seek to ensure that those communities affected by years of criminalization of cannabis are included in the economic boon to come,” the letter read. “However, there is not the same level of consideration for traditional, land-based communities, such as acequias, where a significant agricultural land base and senior water rights are located and are now at risk of being lost to wealthy outside interests.”

Late in the regular session, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, offered up amendments that largely addressed the concerns raised in the NMAA letter. But, the sponsors ultimately said only about half of the language in Lopez’s amendment would be considered “friendly.”

Regardless, any amendments made to HB12 are rendered moot now that the session is over. 

A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham told NM Political Report that discussions about what language should be in a new legalization proposal were “just beginning” a few days after the regular session ended and that concerns about equity and access to land and water were “part of that discussion.” 

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who also sponsored a legalization bill said his proposal would have addressed the issue, even though it didn’t include explicit protections for certain communities. By the end of the session, Pirtle’s bill stood as the free-market proposal. 

“I’m not sure how you get more equitable than free markets with a low cost to enter the market, as my bill does,” Pirtle told NM Political Report

Because there is not a set date for the special session or a way to observe negotiations between lawmakers, it’s still unclear when the public will see a new proposal or when they can see it. But it’s likely going to be an amalgamation of at least two different bills that lawmakers considered during the regular legislative session. And Gonzales said he knows that no piece of legislation will make everyone 100 percent happy. 

“I don’t think we’re gonna get everything we want,” Gonzales said. “But there has to be something about equity in terms of moving forward.”

You can hear the full interview with Gonzales and an interview with Politico reporter Natalie Fertig below.