Growing Forward: Pulling back the leaves

The fifth episode of Growing Forward, the collaborative cannabis podcast between New Mexico PBS and NM Political Report, was released on Tuesday. 

In the episode, we take a look at the cannabis plant itself and hear about how complex it really is. 

Wylie Atherton with New Mexico cannabis producer Seven Point Farms, told Growing Forward that growing experts like him have devoted much of their time to really understanding the intricacies of cannabis. 

“Discerning cannabis is an art form that’s been relegated to small cloistered groups of people who really, really loved the plant,” Atherton said. 

To the novice cannabis user, terms like sativa and indica may not mean much. Others may know the two terms as a way to tell if a cannabis strain is uplifting or relaxing. But Atherton said flavor or aroma profiles play a significant part in how a strain may affect the user. 

Terpenes are compounds found in many plants that produce aromas and flavors. Atherton used driving a car as an analogy for how terpenes and cannabinoids work together. He said the terpenes are like the driver of the car and the cannabinoids are the horsepower or engine of the car. 

“Say you’re smoking a cannabis extract like a distillate that has upwards of 80 percent THC, but there’s no terpene present.

Which legislative races could decide the fate of marijuana legalization

It is unlikely that recreational-use cannabis legalization will be the sole deciding factor for New Mexico voters when they fill out their ballots this year. But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a proponent of legalization and the state Legislature is expected to take up the issue next January. And according to a poll commissioned by the Albuquerque Journal this summer, a large majority of New Mexicans are in favor of legalization. At least two major medical cannabis producers contributed almost $35,000 collectively to Democratic candidates or Democratic political committees. 

With the entire Legislature up for election this year, it’s hard to pinpoint whether there will be enough votes to pass any legalization attempts. But, there are a handful of state Senate and House races that could be deciding factors.

Growing Forward and looking to the past

It is nearly a guarantee that recreational cannabis legalization will be one of the main talking points and likely a wedge issue during next year’s legislative session. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made it clear since she ran for governor and throughout her nearly two years in office that she wants to see cannabis legalized. 

There have been repeated efforts to fully legalize recreational-use cannabis for a number of years, but under former Gov. Susana Martinez those attempts repeatedly failed. Now, with a governor advocating for legalization, backed with potentially millions of dollars, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for proponents of legalization. 

But both the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions showed that it takes more than the governor’s support to legalize cannabis. For the past five years, even under the Martinez administration, no such effort to legalize cannabis even came close to getting to the governor’s desk. Now, even months before legislation can be filed, lawmakers are already discussing the merits and downsides of legalization.

Tax expert says there could be significant revenues in cannabis legalization, some lawmakers still skeptical

Comments and questions raised on Tuesday during an interim legislative tax policy committee point towards lengthy debates on recreational cannabis legalization in the upcoming legislative session in January. 

Richard Anklam, the president and executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, told lawmakers that states that were early in legalizing recreational-use cannabis like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have seen significant tax revenue increases in the past several years. Anklam, using a study from the Tax Foundation, a national think tank, said New Mexico could see roughly $70 million in excise taxes, before factoring in gross receipts taxes, if the state legalizes cannabis for recreational use. 

While not as common, Anklam said some states who have recently legalized recreational-use cannabis have developed tax models based on potency instead of by volume of what is sold. He said, the potential increase in tax revenue may not become the state’s saving grace, but that it would make a significant impact. 

“What’s the marijuana market worth? It’s worth a lot,” Anklam said. “Most states can’t fund highly significant portions of their government with it, but every little bit helps.”

Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Ultra Health, a New Mexico medical cannabis production company, told lawmakers that despite the large amounts of possible tax money going to the state, current restrictions on cannabis production would not be conducive to a cannabis boom. 

Rodriguez has long been a vocal critic of the state’s Department of Health’s restrictions on how many plants producers can grow.

NM Political Report, NMPBS launch Growing Forward

New Mexico Political Report is excited to announce the result of a months-long collaboration with New Mexico PBS: Growing Forward. 

Growing Forward is a new podcast about cannabis in New Mexico, thanks to a grant from the New Mexico Local News Fund. 

Reporter Andy Lyman and NMPBS correspondent Megan Kamerick have teamed up to produce ten episodes looking at the state’s current medical cannabis program, how it started and what New Mexicans could see in the near future in terms of legalization of recreational-use cannabis. 

You can hear episodes every Tuesday and the first one will be released on Sept. 22. Subscribe on your podcatcher of choice and check out the trailer below. 

Small wins for cannabis in 2020 legislative session

Cannabis legislation was not a complete loss for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during this year’s legislative session, but it was far from a complete win. Despite almost a year of work from a group assembled by Lujan Grisham to come up with proposed legislation for cannabis legalization, the proposal she backed failed early on in the session. The only Lujan Grisham-backed proposal that made it to her desk is a bill that would limit enrollment in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program to New Mexico residents. 

During a press conference after the Legislature adjourned on Thursday, Lujan Grisham said she will keep pushing for a safe and comprehensive legalization measure, even if it means changing the state constitution. New Mexico law does not allow for voter initiatives, which is how most states, including Colorado, legalized cannabis. The only way to change law through an election question is to propose a constitutional amendment, and Lujan Grisham said that’s not off the table. 

“I’m open to any number of pathways,” Lujan Grisham told reporters. 

New Mexicans only

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, was promoted as a fix to legislation that was passed into law last year.

Cannabis legalization stalls in committee

A recreational cannabis legalization bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, while a bill that would limit who can become a medical cannabis patient moved on. Both bills are sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who has pushed for legalization in various ways for a number of years. 

Ortiz y Pino’s legalization bill, SB 115, by far received the most debate and criticism, particularly from the committee’s chairman Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. Cervantes, who has long pushed for decriminalization, but has said he does not favor full legalization, said he was more concerned with problematic language in the almost 200-page bill. He spent more than 30 minutes going through some of his concerns, one of which was fairness. 

“This bill reflects one of the weaknesses in this state which is the propensity to pick winners and losers,” Cervantes said. 

He meticulously picked apart the bill and cited provisions that he said seemed unfair like a section that aims to include organized labor in cannabis production companies and a section that would create a subsidy program for indigent medical cannabis patients. Cervantes also said he didn’t like that the bill would allow those with previous drug convictions to get into the industry, even invoking the name of infamous drug lord El Chapo. 

The bill was tabled on a 6-3 vote.

Even as cannabis legalization bill advances this year, final passage still unlikely

A co-sponsor of a bill that would legalize the use of recreational cannabis said he he thinks it only has a “one in three” chance of becoming law this year. 

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said Senate Bill 115 is undergoing a revision to better address some concerns raised before it’s heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. 

The bill cleared its first hurdle in late January when the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 along party lines to advance it.  Since then, Ortiz y Pino said he and the bill’s other sponsors have been meeting with supporters as well as opponents to make it more palatable. As such, even if it becomes law, the start date for the recreational cannabis program has been pushed back from 2021 to 2022. 

But Ortiz y Pino acknowledged it may take another year or two to get recreational cannabis through the Legislature — in part because time is running out on this year’s 30-day session, and the bill still must go through multiple committees. The session ends at noon Feb. 20. “It’s going to be very tough to get this through as late in the session as it is,” he said. 

He said the bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, may have a better shot of success during next year’s 60-day legislative session. 

“We’re trying to work out some of the issues that may be objectionable in the bill, educate legislators about it and give the public a chance to tell legislators what they think,” Ortiz y Pino said.