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.

Legislature sends expungement bill to governor’s desk

A bill to expunge cannabis-related criminal offenses that would no longer be illegal if cannabis is legalized is headed to the governor’s desk. The effort began with 11 amendments in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, which the committee later adopted as a committee substitute, and another on the Senate floor, a speedy move through the special legislative session. The Senate passed the bill on a 23-13 vote after about one hour of discussion early Wednesday afternoon. The House later passed the bill on a 41-28 vote after over an hour and a half of debate. The bill aims to automatically expunge the criminal offenses, under the state’s expungement law, that would no longer be illegal under cannabis legalization which was being debated by the Senate.

Expungement bill passes Senate committee

A Senate committee passed a heavily amended piece of legislation to expunge the criminal records of those convicted of cannabis-related crimes that would no longer be crimes under the proposed cannabis legalization bill working its way through the special session. The bill would provide for automatic expungement of cannabis related offenses that would no longer be illegal under the new law. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 to pass the bill after hours of technical discussion on language and a series of amendments to clarify the law. “I think a critical part of our state moving forward with the cannabis legislation is making sure that folks who have been convicted or arrested or dealt with the fallout of offenses that were based on actions that in the cannabis regulation act passes will no longer be crimes aren’t suffering the negative impacts of that,” Sen. Katy Duhigg, an Albuquerque Democrat who is one of five sponsors of the bill, said. Among the numerous amendments adopted in the committee were to remove the role of the Attorney General in reviewing cases of those incarcerated to have the cannabis-related portions of their convictions removed from their conviction and one that would clarify that only the portions of records related to cannabis would be removed from the record.

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.

Criminal cannabis operations that took root in Navajo Nation could pop up in other Indigenous communities

Last year, Dineh Benally, the former president of San Juan River Farm Board in the Navajo Nation, oversaw the transformation of 400 acres of cropland into illegal marijuana farms across the Shiprock chapter in the northeast corner of the reservation. Despite a state, federal and tribal crackdown on the operation, multiple sources told Searchlight New Mexico and High Country News that he is attempting to establish new cannabis ventures in other Native communities. A source confirmed the same to Navajo Times. This story was originally published in Searchlight New Mexico and High Country News and is republished with permission. Since the November raids, Navajo Nation Police Chief Philip Francisco told Searchlight New Mexico and High Country News that law enforcement did not know Benally’s whereabouts and presumed he was in hiding.

Special session for cannabis legalization to start March 30

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Friday that she will call the state Legislature back for a special session on Tuesday, March 30. 

The special session will start just ten days after the end of the state’s regular, 60-day session. At the end of the regular session, Lujan Grisham said that she would call legislators into a special session soon to finish the effort. The governor cited precautions in place because of COVID-19 as one reason why legislation ran out of time. According to a statement from the governor’s office, the session will focus on recreational-use cannabis legalization and economic development through the state’s Local Economic Development Act (LEDA). 

Lujan Grisham said in the statement that cannabis legalization and reforming economic development are important enough for the state to call a special session. 

“The unique circumstances of the session, with public health safeguards in place, in my view prevented the measures on my call from crossing the finish line,” Lujan Grisham said. “While I applaud the Legislature and staff for their incredible perseverance and productivity during the 60-day in the face of these challenges, we must and we will forge ahead and finish the job on these initiatives together for the good of the people and future of our great state.”

During special sessions, legislators can only discuss legislation that the governor puts on the call.

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.

Competing recreational cannabis bills introduced

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.

COVID is pushing thousands of Chinese immigrant workers into the marijuana business—sometimes leading to exploitation and labor trafficking

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — Irving Lin, a jovial entrepreneur in his late 60’s, wanted to share a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a near-miraculous way out of the economic devastation wrought on Southern California’s Chinese communities by the pandemic: the gift of marijuana. “We are making a fortune in Oklahoma, and you can too,” Lin, speaking in Mandarin, told a crowd of 30 potential investors gathered for a PowerPoint presentation at a Chinese cultural center on Dec. 5. The return on investment is as high as 1,200 percent, Lin explained eagerly.

Growing Forward: Who’s running things?

Today marks the release of the 4th episode of Growing Forward, a collaboration between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, thanks to a grant from the New Mexico Local News Fund. 

In today’s episode, we look at the business side of medical cannabis and talk to a couple of high-profile cannabis business owners. 

One of the most recognizable names in the state’s medical cannabis program is Darren White. 

White is a former law enforcement officer and the former head of public safety for both the City of Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico. He ended his time as Secretary of Public Safety under then-Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, after Johnson publicly said he was in favor of legalizing cannabis. 

At the time, White was staunchly opposed to legalizing cannabis and said he was even opposed to medical cannabis. But now White is the head of PurLife, one of the more prominent cannabis producers in the state. 

White told Growing Forward that he had an “eye-opening experience” after a friend suggested White try a cannabis topical to help combat chronic pain. 

“I was just wrong about it,” White said. “It really does help a lot of people and their quality of life.”

This week’s episode also explores how the state expanded the maximum number of plants producers can grow after a legal battle with another prominent producer. 

But this week’s episode also examines what it’s like to be a producer through the eyes of a female producer, in what seems to be a male-dominated industry. 

If you haven’t listened to the first three episodes, you can catch up below or search for Growing Forward at anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you usually get your podcasts.