Governor signs cannabis legalization into law

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday signed two bills that, together, legalize the use and possession of cannabis and expunge previous cannabis related criminal records. 

“This legislation is a major, major step forward for our state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Legalized adult-use cannabis is going to change the way we think about New Mexico for the better – our workforce, our economy, our future. We’re ready to break new ground. We’re ready to invest in ourselves and the limitless potential of New Mexicans. And we’re ready to get to work in making this industry a successful one.”  

The New Mexico Legislature passed HB 2 and SB 2 last month during a special session.

Gary Johnson reacts to Legislature passing cannabis legalization bill

Pending a signature from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico is set to become the latest state to fully legalize cannabis. And while the state has received an abundance of national attention for the feat, some may have forgotten or overlooked the national attention a former governor garnered more than two decades ago for his, then-controversial, stance that cannabis should be legalized. 

In the late 1990s, then-Gov. Gary Johnson, at the time a Republican, made national headlines for advocating for full legalization of cannabis, nearly seven years before the state would legalize medical-use cannabis and more than a decade before Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational-use cannabis. 

Since leaving office after his second term as governor, Johnson twice ran for president and once for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian. 

Johnson told NM Political Report that he’s not one to say, “I told you so,” but that he is proud of being an early advocate for full legalization. “I do take pride, and I would not mind my obituary, if anybody runs it, saying that ‘This was the highest elected official in the country to call for marijuana legalization for about 15 years,’” he said. “I mean, I think I held that title for about 15 years.”

Lujan Grisham called for a special session, in part, to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge prior cannabis related criminal records. 

Much of the criticism from Republicans during the special session was that New Mexico is just not ready to legalize. But others, namely Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, argued that specifics of the cannabis industry should be left to the free market and not overly regulated by the state.

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.

More contentious debates over cannabis legalization expected during the special session

The New Mexico Legislature is slated to start a special session Tuesday to address economic development and full cannabis legalization. But there is still a question of how much support cannabis legalization will garner from both Republicans and Democrats. 

About an hour after the regular 2021 legislative session ended, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, flanked by Democratic legislative leaders in a news conference, announced that she would call legislators back for a special session to pick up where they left off with recreational-use cannabis legalization. The session started out with five legalization bills, but by the last week there was only one proposal: HB 12. Sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, HB 12 quickly became the favored bill for many Democrats, but hit a rough patch as it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rural community stakeholders want lawmakers to address equity in cannabis legalization

New Mexico lawmakers are gearing up for a special legislative session, that will at least be mostly focused on legalizing adult-use cannabis. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her intention to call a special session just after this year’s regular legislative session, but didn’t specify the exact date when it would start. Now, as lawmakers are reportedly working out the details, many local community stakeholders are wringing their hands, hoping the Legislature will address their respective concerns. One of those issues of concern is equity in rural New Mexico communities. 

Moises Gonzales, a community leader with the Cañon de Carnué Land Grant, near Albuquerque, said that none of the legalization bills presented during this year’s regular session fully addressed land grant and acequia communities’ concerns. 

HB 12, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, both Democrats, probably came the closest to addressing concerns of an equitable cannabis industry. HB 12 would have allowed for micro cannabis licenses as a way to give smaller companies a chance to thrive.

Cannabis legalization runs out of time, governor will call for a special session

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham confirmed on Saturday that she plans to call a special legislative session aimed at fully legalizing cannabis and said it will begin “on or about” March 31. 

In a post-legislative session press conference, Lujan Grisham said the work lawmakers did to try and come up with an agreeable cannabis legalization proposal can serve as a good starting point during the special session. 

“If you look at all of the brokering of efforts to bring two sides of the issue together, and it happened over and over again, we have an incredible framework ready to go for adult use cannabis,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The governor’s announcement comes on the heels of a 60-day session that failed to send a cannabis legalization bill to Lujan Grisham’s desk. But the outlook for cannabis legalization during the last few days of the session was a stark contrast from the optimism just weeks earlier. About a week before lawmakers were set to adjourn, legalization seemed like it was going to stall in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But HB 12, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, ultimately made its way out of that committee, albeit with less than 72 hours before the end of the session and a warning from Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. 

“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, existing law,” Cervantes said. “And I don’t think you want to do that.”

More specifically, Cervantes said the bill would unintentionally give parents the ability to give their children cannabis and that wording regarding personal possession limits was opposite of what the sponsors intended.

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.

Two cannabis legalization bills move forward

The two remaining cannabis legalization bills in the New Mexico Legislature each passed a Senate committee on Tuesday. Both bills now head to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is the last stop for one bill before its likely last floor debate. 

The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee passed HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, by a 7-4 party-line vote. SB 288, sponsored by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, passed the committee unanimously after urging from Senate Majority Floor leader Peter Wirth. 

“My plan is to vote for both of these bills moving forward,” Wirth said. 

Both bills have similar provisions, especially after Pirtle amended his bill to eliminate a section that would limit the distance between dispensaries and added language that would ensure tribal governments can enter into an agreement with the state to set up their own legal cannabis program. 

Pirtle also amended his bill to prohibit any state agency from adding cannabis plant limits for producers. That change made his bill line up even closer to HB 12, until Wirth presented what he called a “lengthy amendment” backed by the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department.