New Mexico approves landmark recreational-use cannabis bill

New Mexico is slated to be the 18th state to legalize recreational-use cannabis and the fifth state to do so legislatively. 

HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Albuquerque and three other legislators, sped through multiple committee hearings and Senate and House Floor debates in less than two days. The rushed effort was part of the special legislative session called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, just days after the regular 60-day session. 

Lujan Grisham, in a statement on Wednesday, praised the bill’s sponsors and called the passage of legalization a “breakthrough.”

“As New Mexicans know, I have advocated and pushed and negotiated for this measure, and I am immensely proud and humbled to have seen it through,” Lujan Grisham said. “But that feeling is dwarfed by the gratitude I feel for the well-informed advocates, to the community members from all across the state–urban and rural, from every region–who have been committed to lobbying for this, to the leaders in the Legislature who helped us cross this major threshold.”

The new law will allow adults 21 and older to personally possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis extract or 800 milligrams of edibles. A person can have more than that, but it must be locked in a safe place at home. Adults 21 and older can also grow up to six mature plants. Licensed sales will begin no later than April 2022 and the state will begin issuing business licenses by January 2022.

House cannabis legalization bill passes two committees, heads to the floor

A cannabis legalization bill passed two committees, one on Tuesday afternoon and the other during the early hours of Wednesday morning. It’s slated for a floor debate next 

HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, along with three other lawmakers, first passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee Tuesday evening on a 8-4 vote. Then the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee early Tuesday morning by a 7-4 vote. Both votes were along party lines, with no Republicans voting for the bill and all Democrats voting in favor. 

HB 2 is an altered version of a previous bill Martínez and Romero sponsored during the regular 60-day session and much of the debate and comments were also similar. 

During the first hearing, Martínez took a moment to point out that this proposal has been in the works for years and has seen hours of debate.    

“The bill before you, Madam Chairman, members of the committee, has been written and rewritten and amended and subbed out for many, many years,” said during the tax committee debate. 

One of the more significant changes made since the regular session is a compromise of sorts on plant limits for cannabis producers. Originally, the bill proposed during the regular session specifically barred the state from implementing production limits.

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.

Senate Judiciary Chair awaiting changes to cannabis legalization bill

The chairman of a New Mexico Senate committee that is key to getting a House-backed cannabis legalization effort to the Senate floor said he is still waiting on expected changes before scheduling a hearing. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes said he was told by Senate leadership that HB 12, a bill sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, was undergoing changes before its final committee before the Senate floor. 

“I haven’t even heard from the bill sponsor,” Cervantes, a Democrat from Las Cruces, said. “My understanding is there’s a Senate Judiciary Committee sub that is in the works. That’s the only thing I’ve been told.”

A spokesman for the Senate Democratic leadership confirmed that Cervantes was indeed told there are changes being made to the bill. 

Martínez did not respond to an inquiry about what parts of his bill are being changed. And while legalization proponents may be anxiously wondering if there is still enough time in the last days of the session to get a cannabis legalization bill to the governor’s desk before the session ends on Saturday at noon, Cervantes said the bigger concern should be whether changes to the bill will be approved by the Judiciary Committee. 

“The issue will be the caliber of the bill as it gets amended,” Cervantes said. “The bill in its present form is not ready to become a law.”

Cervantes did not specify which parts of the bill he thinks should be changed or how.

Cannabis legalization bill heads to House floor

A House bill aimed at legalizing and regulating recreational-use cannabis passed its second committee Wednesday and will next be debated on the chamber’s floor. 

HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Representatives Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee along party lines by a vote of 8-4. 

The committee adopted Martínez’s proposed substitute bill which made some significant changes including eliminating specific tax revenue designations, often referred to as earmarks. Specifically, the new version of HB 12 would eliminate earmarks for a medical cannabis patient fund and a designation for communities disproportionately impacted by previous drug laws, although Martínez said funds for those specific purposes would remain. The new version of the bill also removed fines and fees for juveniles, strengthened employers’ rights to enforce a drug-free work environment, delayed the start dates for selling recreational-use cannabis through dispensaries and adjusted tax rates on cannabis sales. 

Just as he did in the previous committee hearing on the issue, Martínez cited three major principles of his bill: the protection of the current medical cannabis program, legalization with equity and restorative justice and a strong regulatory framework. 

Martínez also stressed that New Mexico could be the third state in the U.S. to legalize cannabis legislatively instead of through a voter initiative. 

Romero also stressed that a comprehensive bill that includes social and restorative justice provisions would ensure no one is left behind. 

“Of course, the most important component as to why this is the best way to do it, is because of how we’re trying to reduce the harm in our communities and really soundly address the social justice and access to justice components of this, while we’re trying to create a brand new industry,” Romero said. 

Only Republican members of the committee raised questions and concerns about the bill, which were largely focused on the social impacts of legalization and less about taxation and revenue. 

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, said he thought legalization would be viewed as a mistake in the future. 

“I do believe that 10 years from now, we’ll look back at the impact this has had on New Mexico and I just really believe, deeply, that we will all regret doing this,” Harper said. 

He also recounted a conversation he had with a state lawmaker in Colorado, where cannabis has been legal for years. 

“I can’t remember what political party she was, so I’m not even going to guess. But she did say that she was hoping that we would legalize marijuana so that her homeless camps would all move to New Mexico where it’s warmer,” Harper said. “So just something, something to think about.”

Ultimately, Harper’s line of questions were more focused on taxes and revenue and even though he voted against the bill, he praised the work of the two sponsors. 

Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, also asked specifics about how cannabis would be taxed and the potential revenue, but later asked if it was a smart move to legalize cannabis while many in New Mexico are on public assistance. 

“We’re a very poor state, and we’re about to pass legislation that would take another $625 million out of their pockets,” Scott said.

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.

No decision by House committee, yet, on cannabis legalization

The push for cannabis legalization by some New Mexico lawmakers continues to be a steady, yet slow, effort. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee on Saturday heard comments from members of the public as well as questions and concerns from three Republican representatives regarding cannabis legalization bills HB 12 and HB 17. But the committee did not vote on either bill and will return on Monday to consider additional amendments and decide whether one, both or neither bill will go on to the next committee. 

Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe is the lead sponsor of HB 17. 

Lujan said that, while this is her first year as a legislator, she has watched the push for legalization closely. 

“One of the things that we keep getting told is, ‘Wait and see, wait and see. Let’s look at the states that have the programs in place and learn from their mistakes before we move forward with our own legislation for New Mexico,” Lujan told the committee. “I’ve watched and as this push to legalize has repeatedly stalled out, it’s been very frustrating. It’s been frustrating for many of us as we see, especially our neighboring states around us move forward with it.”

Lujan framed her legalization bill as a distilled version of previous attempts at legalization, mainly focused on protecting the state’s current medical cannabis program.

NM lawmakers faced with a number of proposals to legalize cannabis

New Mexicans who are following the push by many lawmakers to legalize recreational-use cannabis now have plenty of reading material. 

Legislators have filed four legalization bills, two of which have identical language. All of the bills have the same general goal, but with different paths to get there and varying standards of what would and wouldn’t be allowed in a post-legalization New Mexico. Passage of any of the bills is still not a guarantee and given the history of previous cannabis legalization proposals and the legislative process in general, it is likely some pieces of the differing bills will be absorbed into one final bill. What was once an issue with more of a binary argument, is now an issue with nuances and proponents with a variety of priorities as it gets closer to becoming reality. Just six years ago, a cannabis legalization bill sponsored by a Democrat was assigned to five committees and was never considered by its first panel.

Legislators push to get bill heard on rent relief, thousands will be affected

New Mexico state Representatives Andrea Romero and Angelica Rubio are proposing a $77 million bill to provide rent relief through the end of the year. Romero, D-Santa Fe, and Rubio, D-Las Cruces, held an online town hall Wednesday evening to discuss the proposed bill, which they said they expect to file Thursday morning at the start of the special session. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not announce that rent relief would be on the call for the special session when announcing her priorities for the special session. Lujan Grisham’s press secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said through email late Wednesday that “legislators may file additional proposals such as (rent relief fund) and the legislative process will either see those through or not.​”

But Rubio said that she has been hearing this week that Lujan Grisham would not put something on her call that wasn’t likely to “succeed,” and that legislators would only be able to debate the bills on Lujan Grisham’s call. Romero outlined the three main points of what will be on the bill.

House passes renewable energy investment plan proposal

The state House passed a memorial that would direct the State Investment Council (SIC) to explore investment opportunities in renewable energy, transmission and storage. HM 9 directs the SIC and the State Land Office to collaborate together on developing a strategic plan for investing in renewables and related projects within the state. “The goal of this memorial is to invest more renewables in our state,” said Democratic Rep. and bill sponsor Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde. “Our state has the second highest solar density in the country, second to the Mojave Desert in California. The renewable industry is booming in other states, this is a great opportunity to move forward in this area.”

Democratic Reps.