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. 

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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.