Two state senators on opposite sides of the political aisle introduced competing bills Monday to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico. A third proposal, also filed Monday, is expected to be formally introduced Tuesday in the House of Representatives, and other bills could be forthcoming. The push to legalize cannabis for recreational adult use comes after previous efforts failed under a more conservative group of New Mexico lawmakers. It also comes as the state government seeks to diversify its revenue sources to reduce its heavy reliance on oil and gas. But the two senators who introduced the first cannabis legalization bills of this year’s 60-day legislative session, and the state director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, said generating revenue shouldn’t be the driving force.
It is likely that the general public will not see drafts of recreational-use cannabis legalization proposals from the legislature until next month, but one group is already suggesting language and looking for a legislative sponsor.
The New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce publicly released an early of a recreational-use cannabis bill that they say highlights what those in the industry see as important issues. The chamber is made up of more than 40 cannabis organizations, ranging from educational and legal groups to actual cultivators and dispensaries.
The chamber’s director, Ben Lewinger, said the group worked tirelessly to come up with language that puts the state first.
“Our members have an agreement that what’s best for their individual companies right now is not necessarily what’s going to be best for the future of cannabis in New Mexico,” Lewinger said.
The chamber’s early draft includes portions that were included in previous legislation, but also adds to them.
One issue that has been publicly discussed, but not included in previous attempts is how to ensure cannabis businesses are mostly local.
The chamber’s proposed solution is to only allow businesses with at least 60 percent of the company owned by those who have lived in the state for two years. Lewinger said the chamber wanted to ensure New Mexicans have a stake in cannabis sales, but also not hinder the flow of capital from outside the state.
“We were trying to strike a balance between it being a true homegrown New Mexico industry, but not limiting the ability for out-of-state money to come into a New Mexico run company,” he said.
Oklahoma, which only has a medical cannabis program, albeit one of the most prosperous in the country, has a provision that requires 25 percent of ownership is locally based. But Oklahoma is also facing a legal challenge in federal court over that requirement. Lewinger said given the pending Oklahoma case, he wouldn’t be surprised if New Mexico faces a similar challenge, if the bill moves forward as written.
During a New Mexico Department of Health public hearing earlier this month that allowed public input into proposed rule changes to the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, a major player in the industry raised concerns with some patients.
Willie Ford, managing director of the medical cannabis consulting company Reynold Greenleaf and Associates, told DOH officials he wanted more state oversight of patients who grow their own cannabis.
“PPLs need more regulation, they need more oversight for public safety issues,” Ford said. “These are significant and serious issues that affect the general public and their safety.”
PPLs, or Personal Production Licenses, allow patients who qualify to grow up to four plants for their own use. He voice concern with a proposed rule change that would allow PPL holders to take their harvested cannabis to licensed manufacturers to produce extracts and concentrates. Four plants, Ford said, could equal about 20 pounds a year per PPL.
Ford’s comments, and the online rebuttals from PPL patients that came after, highlight an issue that DOH will likely be forced to address, especially before New Mexico legalizes cannabis for recreational use: whether PPL patients should be regulated similar to Licensed Non-Profit Producers who sell products through their dispensaries.
Josh McCurdy with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance told NM Political Report that he didn’t appreciate the suggestion that PPL patients are doing anything other than growing their own medicine, often in places where dispensaries are far and few between.
“We need more competition,” McCurdy, who lives and grows his own cannabis in Ruidoso, said. “That’s the reason it’s $10 a gram in Albuquerque and it goes from $12 to $15 in rural areas.”
He estimated his homegrown cannabis costs about $5 to $6 a gram to grow.
McCurdy disagreed with Ford’s claim that four plants harvested around 4 to five times a year could yield about 20 pounds.
“I’ve been by a few hundred PPL grows in this state and 99 percent of them are struggling just to yield a couple of ounces every four months,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy dismissed a common sentiment he said he’s heard from producers—that home growers contribute to illegal cannabis sales.
“The producers have put it in a way, where they like to do some fear mongering and act like the PPLs are the illicit black market,” McCurdy said.
Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a task force to study possible cannabis legalization measures last month, some in the medical cannabis community expressed concerns about proper representation.
The Cannabis Legalization Working Group, the governor’s office said, will work this year and send their recommendations to Lujan Grisham before next year’s 30-day legislative session. Lujan Grisham announced earlier this year that she would add legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use to the call next year. In even numbered years, all legislation related to budgetary matters are considered “germane”, but the governor can give permission for legislators to discuss other issues.
Some medical cannabis patients and patient advocates have long warned lawmakers of passing legalization proposals that might harm the medical cannabis program. Now, at least one patient and even medical cannabis producers are scratching their heads wondering why the Cannabis Legalization Working Group does not include actual patients.
Patients want a seat at the table
Ginger Grider is a medical cannabis patient and works with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance. Grider, who lives in Portales, said rural parts of the state regularly see shortages or outages in local dispensaries.