House passes cannabis legalization effort, sends it to the Senate

A House proposal to legalize and regulate cannabis passed the chamber on a 39-31 vote, with six Democrats breaking rank to vote against the measure. 

HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, would fully legalize the sale and production of cannabis for adults, allow home cultivation and would expunge previous minor drug convictions. The bill would also implement an eight percent excise tax on the sale of cannabis and a local government tax up to four percent. Recreational-use cannabis would also be subject to gross receipts taxes, while medical-use cannabis would not. 

Martínez said the three major tenets of the bill are to protect New Mexico’s current medical-use cannabis program, ensure an equitable and just industry and to create a regulated industry that will thrive. 

Romero told her colleagues she shared the sentiments of her cosponsor and said cannabis has been used for various purposes for centuries, including in her own family.    

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo explained why he opposed the bill. He raised concerns about how a fully-legalized cannabis program might impact tribal governments in the state.

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.

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.