2021 Top Stories #3: Cannabis legalized

See our entire countdown of 2021 top stories, to date, here. One of the most notable things that happened in 2021 was the legalization of recreational-use cannabis. 

The use of medical cannabis has been legal in New Mexico for more than a decade, but full legalization did not become a reality for New Mexico until earlier this year, during a special legislative session devoted mostly to legalization. Weeks before, during a regular legislative session, lawmakers were unable to come up with a version of a legalization bill that would address everyone’s concerns. Ultimately, the effort in the regular session stalled in a key Senate committee. 

But the special session proved to be a success for proponents of cannabis legalization and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law in April. But even as it looked like legalization was on the horizon, there were still many concerns about how legalization would impact rural communities in the northern part of the state. 

Of course, New Mexico couldn’t legalize cannabis without former Gov. Gary Johnson weighing in.

NM special session ends with approval of Senate redistricting map

New Mexico’s latest special legislative session, mostly devoted to redistricting, came to an end on Friday after the state House approved two pieces of legislation. The state Senate adjourned the night before after approving its own new district map, a House redistricting proposal and a House bill that cleaned up language in the state’s medical malpractice law. 

On the House floor on Friday, representatives approved the Senate redistricting map on a 38-22, near-party-line vote and, through a concurrence vote, approved changes the Senate made the night before on a medical malpractice bill.  

Despite a traditionally unspoken agreement that each chamber does not make changes to each other’s map proposals, the House engaged in a three-hour debate over the Senate’s own map proposal. 

The debate mostly centered around ethnicity and whether or not all of the map proposals presented during the two-week-long special session were consistent with a newly formed independent redistricting committee. 

House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, used a Spanish phrase he said his family used to denote shameful or embarrassing actions. 

“I believe that the statement to this legislature and what we’ve done this year is sin vergüenza,” Montoya said. “Don’t we hold on to anything that was important to our forefathers? Is there anything that our parents taught us that is worth keeping hold of?”

The debate seemed to be a carryover from the Senate debate the night before and centered on the sentiment from Republicans in both the Senate and House that the redistricting process was tainted. 

This year, for the first time, a statutorily-created Citizen Redistricting Committee came up with about a dozen different recommended map concepts for the Legislature to consider. The law does not require the Legislature to adopt any of the suggestions from the redistricting committee and Democrats defended their map proposals as being based on the committee’s recommendations, albeit not verbatim copies of the committee’s proposals. 

Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Rio Rancho, who is now facing a major change to the district she represents, bluntly said she thought the new redistricting process “sucks.”

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, dismissed previous claims that the proposed maps, particularly the Senate map, were pitting Hispanic and Latinos against Native Americans and called it “race-baiting.”

“There’s an obvious attempt to politically wedge people of color in this state, unfortunately, and I’m sorry to say that, but it’s obvious to me,” Lente said.

After heated debate over race, NM Senate approves its own redistricting map

The New Mexico state Senate approved a proposal to redraw its own districts on Thursday by a 25-13 vote. SB 2, sponsored by Sens. Linda Lopez and Daniel Ivey-Soto, both Albuquerque Democrats, would redraw the state Senate districts and also adopt a Native American consensus map that tribes and pueblos spent months crafting. 

Much of the contentious debate was carried over from the night before and focused on two Hispanic Republican incumbents that would be paired together in one district. After hours of inaction due to a call of the Senate that required all members to be present before any more substantive business continued, several Republican Senators accused Senate Democrats of being racist for pushing a map forward that would pair the two Hispanic Republicans in the same district. 

Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen and Sen. Joshua Sanchez, R-Veguita, the two senators in question, live about 10 miles, or a 15 to 20 minute drive from each other, according to financial disclosure information. But Baca and Sanchez represent two different districts.

NM Senate approves House map, heads to governor’s desk

The New Mexico state Senate approved a bill that would redraw state House maps on a 24-13 vote. HB 8 is one of four proposals that would draw state political districts in the current special legislative session. 

The Senate floor debate for HB 8 came just after the Senate spent hours debating its own political boundaries and was much shorter than that of the Senate map proposal. 

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who presented the proposal, said the map met both deviation and population number requirements. 

While there is somewhat of an unspoken rule that the Senate and House do not make significant changes to each other’s maps, Republicans offered one amendment, presumably to make a point and discussed amendments they said they would like to make, but didn’t. 

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, offered up an amendment to pair Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe in the same district as Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, but he ultimately withdrew the amendment. 

“We just passed a set of Senate maps that left a couple members paired, and this would pair a couple members in the House,” Pirtle said before withdrawing his amendment. “So that way, we have some continuity between the bodies.”

HB 8 already pairs a number of incumbents together. 

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said he took issue with how the House redrew the boundaries for districts currently represented by Rep. Jane Powdrell Culbert, R-Rio Rancho. HB 8 proposes to shift much of that district into Corrales. Brandt said he took issue with House Democrats approving a map that significantly changes a district represented by an African American woman. 

“The people in her district respect her and she has served this state in a bipartisan way and has been a strong voice for minority communities in the state,” Brandt said. 

Brandt added that he had a floor amendment ready to go, but opted not to push it unless he saw there was widespread support for it. 

Ivey-Soto introduced a floor amendment that would reverse a previous amendment made during a previous committee hearing.

New congressional map heads to governor’s desk

The New Mexico state House advanced a proposal on Saturday that would redraw the state’s congressional districts to group a sizable portion of the urban Albuquerque area with rural areas in the south with a 44-24 along party lines. The map proposal now heads to the governor’s desk for approval.  

Sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, SB 1 would also put a southwest section of Albuquerque into a district with southern cities including Las Cruces and Alamogordo and group a portion of Roswell and the towns of Lovington and Artesia with northern cities like Farmington and Santa Fe. Hours earlier, the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee approved the proposal on a 6-2 party-line vote

Louis told the committee that the bill, if passed, would ensure that all social, economic and political interests would be better served by members of Congress. 

“Really what we’re doing here is ensuring that our congressional folks now will have both rural and urban instead of making that rural urban split,” Louis said. “It also increases the Hispanic voter age population in the southern districts, and it’s really about giving voters the choice.”

Those who spoke during the public comment period of the committee meeting repeated sentiments of both support and opposition from previous hearings.

Congressional map proposal approved by NM Senate, heads to House

The New Mexico state Senate approved a proposal to redraw the state’s congressional districts by a 25-15 vote on Friday evening. All Republican members voted against the measure, with independent Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque joining Republicans. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, would move congressional district boundaries to group southeastern cities like Artesia, Portales and Clovis with municipalities in the northwest corner of the state into the Third Congressional District. Most of the Albuquerque-metro area would be grouped with southern towns and villages like Carrizozo and Capitan into the First Congressional District. The state’s Second Congressional District would group southern cities like Alamogordo and Las Cruces with a southwestern part of Albuquerque. 

The proposal began as a reworking of one of the concepts recommended by the newly formed Citizen Redistricting Committee and hours before the floor debate, Cervantes convinced the Senate Judiciary to approve changes that brought it closer to the redistricting committee’s recommendation. The original recommendation, officially known as Congressional Concept H, but commonly referred to as “the people’s map” was crafted by a coalition of community advocacy groups.

NM Senate committees advance two redistricting maps

Two New Mexico state Senate committees advanced two redistricting maps on Thursday, one for Congress and one for the state Senate. A New Mexico Senate bill that would redraw the state’s congressional districts inched closer to a full Senate vote on Thursday after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, would make significant changes to the three congressional districts by grouping much of northern New Mexico with a portion of the southeast part of the state. The bill also suggests including rural areas like Carrizozo with much of the urban Albuquerque area. But more rural areas of Albuquerque would be included in the southern congressional district. 

The proposed map is similar to what is largely being referred to as the “people’s map” which was backed by a coalition of progressive advocacy groups. Proponents of “the people’s map” have also added their support of SB 1, arguing that it would group together large populations of Hispanic and Latino voters.

Sen. Candelaria leaves Dem party, registers as decline to state

A New Mexico state Senator and the most vocal critic, from within the party, of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced Monday morning that he had left the Democratic Party. 

“I announce today that I’ve submitted to the Secretary of State a reregistration, changing my registration,” Candelaria said during the start of a special legislative session aimed largely at redistricting. “I am now decline to state.” 

In New Mexico’s election code, decline to state is the designation for voters who do not wish to align themselves with any political party. Candelaria’s reregistration now makes him the sole independent member of the state Senate. 

His announcement comes on the heels of a New Mexico Supreme Court case where he and a Republican senator successfully petitioned the high court to compel Lujan Grisham to hand over spending control of federal relief money to the Legislature. Days after the court’s ruling, Candelaria announced that he was going back to the court to ask that justices censure the governor for allegedly spending a portion of the federal funds after the court’s decision. Lujan Grisham’s office maintained that the money was owed for services that were completed prior to the ruling.

Gov. Lujan Grisham announces special session for redistricting, appropriating COVID relief funds will be next week

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham officially announced on Wednesday that she will call the state Legislature into a special session next week to approve new legislative, congressional and Public Education Commission districts. In addition to redistricting, lawmakers will also be called to appropriate federal COVID-19 relief funds. 

In a statement on Wednesday, Lujan Grisham said she is confident the Legislature will work collaboratively and diligently to finalize new district maps so that all New Mexicans are fairly represented. 

“A fundamental part of our American democracy is ensuring that all voters are represented, and the redistricting effort will make sure that the right of all New Mexicans to vote is complemented by fair representation through their elected officials,” Lujan Grisham said. “I look forward to a productive and collegial session and know lawmakers and legislative leadership will as always carry out the people’s business thoughtfully and respectfully, in a way that honors this important work.” 

Updating district maps is a process that takes place every ten years, on the heels of the federal census. This year, thanks to a new law, the redistricting process began with a citizen redistricting committee that approved several different recommendations for the Legislature to consider. But, the Legislature is not required to accept any of those recommendations.

Redistricting commission advances state House maps

On Wednesday, New Mexico’s newly formed Citizen Redistricting Committee finalized its its recommended maps for the Legislature’s consideration. 

Wednesday’s meeting was solely focused on advancing three map concepts for state House Districts. 

The first map the committee approved was a modified version of a map submitted by the advocacy group Center for Civic Policy. The intention of the map, according to commentary submitted by CCP, was to “help consolidate Hispanic neighborhoods” in a southern district and to “better allow majority-Hispanic voters to elect a candidate of their choice.”

Discussion of that map, which is referred to as Map Concept E, revealed likely partisan disputes when the proposal gets to the Legislature sometime later this year in a special session. 

Related: Commission votes to send proposed redistricting maps to Legislature

Committee member Lisa Curtis, who is an Albuquerque-based lawyer and a former legislator, said she moved the CCP map for consideration because maps that are generally regarded as “status-quo” tend to “perpetuate disenfranchisement for voters.”

“I’m proposing Concept E, to stop the disenfranchisement of the minority-majority of voters in this state,” Curtis said. 

While the citizen committee did not take partisan data into consideration, one member said the districts in Concept E seemed to hint at gerrymandering in favor of Democrats. 

Member Ryan Cangiolosi, who is the former chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said that while he had not looked into the political make-up of each proposed district in Concept E, many of the districts looked “snake-like” to him.  

“The thing that I can say with all assurance is that I know that our CRC maps were drawn without partisan or performance data being considered,” Cangiolosi said. “Now I cannot say with a surety that that was done, that the people who drew those maps didn’t use partisan or performance data when creating those maps.”

Committee member and former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said he liked the concept because it would protect minority voters. 

“This map, to me, protects our Hispanic population, probably not as much as I would like,” Sanchez said. “It definitely protects the Native American population. Again, possibly not as much as I would like.”

The committee also approved what is referred to as the Pueblo Consensus map or the modified version of Map Concept I. According to the redistricting committee’s website, the pueblo consensus map would create five “strong Native American districts” but is also “status-quo oriented.” 

Sanchez’s voting record on the committee leans towards making changes to districts and shying away from status quo maps.